As director-general of the CBI, Richard Lambert is one of UK plc’s most prominent and influential voices. So with the Election looming, MT wanted to gauge his views on some of the big issues affecting business at the moment. As you’d expect, he’s eager to see the Government (of whatever hue) get a better handle on the public finances, and he’s also against the NI hike. But he was keen to touch on other priorities: the security of our energy supply, encouraging greater innovation, and the breakdown of the traditional relationship between employer and employee…
In his previous life, Lambert spent 35 years at the FT, ten of which were as editor. During his time in the top job, the Pink' Un came out for Labour at the 1992 Election – but Lambert insists he’s not partisan. 'I've never been a member of any political party. I've voted for all kinds of people. I do not have any political baggage.' He supports pro-business measures, including the Tory proposal to scrap the NI hike (although he thinks it’s received a disproportionate amount of attention). But he doesn’t appear to have nailed his – or the CBI’s – colours to any particular mast. ‘One of the things I feel strongly about in the election is that the main parties are not giving us their big vision of what kind of society and economy they want us to have.'
If he was in charge, Lambert tells MT, he’d have three priorities. The first would be energy security, he says. ‘We must have secure, diverse, low-carbon sources of energy and we must act now. We're at 10 minutes to midnight in terms of the big decisions we must take.’ Then there’s the banks: 'We've got to get them off the books of the taxpayer and lending to business. That's not easy’. And then there’s taming the public finances, which he thinks is crucial to keeping interest rates down and thus protecting business owners. This means chopping public spending and making public services 'more open to private sector delivery, price and quality'. He’s also keen to encourage greater innovation via tax breaks and better science teaching.
Then there’s the thorny topic of executive pay, which has created so much public hostility towards big business (Lambert’s constituency these days, of course). He insists that senior bosses haven’t just become greedier. But he thinks globalisation has changed things: ‘There has been a major change in the way business works and it has been accelerated by the credit bubble. Firms were able to borrow money at no cost, and the more they borrowed, the richer their executives got.' There has, he says, been a change in the way profits are viewed. ‘In the past they were used to support new products and services. Now they're used to get the bosses rich.'
For this, and more, click here to read our whole interview with the CBI’s Richard Lambert in full online.
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MT meets the CBI's Richard Lambert