HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Winston Churchill said that “Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon.”
Businesses are the lifeblood of our economy; they provide jobs, prosperity, and the products and services we all use. But sadly, as we saw with the banks during the financial crisis and supermarkets bullying their suppliers, some big firms abuse their power and status, behaving with reckless abandon in pursuit of naked greed.
Recently, we’ve seen two such examples of shocking corporate behaviour. The collapse of BHS - one of post-War Britain’s iconic high street department stores- and the alleged ugly practises of Sports Direct have both been the subject of rigorous investigations by Parliamentary Select Committees.
MPs rightly condemned the former BHS boss Sir Philip Green, following accusations that he had taken hundreds of millions of pounds out of the company whilst leaving a pensions black hole of over £570 million, all at the same time as 11,000 employees were losing their jobs. It’s not for nothing that one MP described him as “little better than a corporate crook”, and another referred to the “unacceptable face of capitalism”.
Then, last week, the dirty laundry of Sports Direct was aired publicly in Parliament when the company’s pugnacious boss Mike Ashley was summoned to respond to allegations that his firm was forcing dreadful working conditions on its employees and had been underpaying staff. It’s right that the Government is investigating such dreadful claims.
Such corporate wrongdoing is not unique to Britain. Take the debate about the EU ahead of the referendum; it’s telling that big business has lined up on the ‘remain’ side, whilst smaller firms overwhelmingly back Brexit.
Large corporate entities can afford to hire entire departments to navigate the tangled web of EU red tape – a luxury simply not available to smaller firms. The same big businesses can spend lavishly to lobby Brussels to advance their interests; entrenching their position at the expense of smaller companies who cannot curry favour in the same way.
Whilst the multinational, corporate elite may feel more comfortable in Davos than places like Donington, my sympathies lie with the small businesses which make up 99% of all UK firms and employ 60% of our workforce. Roughly 70% of these businesses want Britain to make its own trade deals. It’s unsurprising that small and medium sized companies overwhelmingly think the EU hurts, rather than helps, their prospects as they are amongst the biggest victims of Brussels’ regulation.
I want to see British firms thrive, and realise their potential. Come June 23rd, we can give life to that vision if we vote to leave.