Cameron quizzed by Suffolk businesses

LISTENING is the big buzz word among politicians these days.And as Leader of the Opposition David Cameron sat down with a group of Suffolk business people yesterday , it was more to absorb ideas than to pontificate on his own.

LISTENING is the big buzz word among politicians these days.

And as Leader of the Opposition David Cameron sat down with a group of Suffolk business people yesterday , it was more to absorb ideas than to pontificate on his own.

The Conservative leader was in Ipswich to talk about John Redwood's competitiveness report, as the party turns its thoughts towards a new manifesto, and the possibility that Gordon Brown's surprise success in the polls could prompt him to call a snap autumn election.

It was a diverse group, and included an osteopath, an estate agent, a solicitor, a call centre boss and a pre-school nursery manager.

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Being Suffolk, quite a number of those present at the St Nicholas Centre preferred to listen themselves while the more outgoing entrepreneurs and business leaders, with some gentle encouragement from Mr Cameron, tried to present him with a snapshot of the things that irked them.

There were the usual suspects: tax, red tape, Home Information Packs, fear of litigation. There were those who went through the many bureaucratic hoops presented to them whose gripe really was that others didn't. There was those of actively wanted to employ minorities such as women and disabled people, who felt they were living in the shadow of potential future litigation.

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It wasn't all one way: the nursery manager called for another bureaucratic measure - rolling CRB checks on employees in their industry, and a local business leader said she didn't see anything in the Conservatives' report about helping women entrepreneurs.

As you might expect from an opposition politician, Mr Cameron, fresh from another meeting and with the clock ticking for his next, was all ears. He looked sympathetic and composed, and tried to draw people on specifics. He asked questions, and tried to get a feel for what people were thinking.

Clever and astute, he took the chair as soon as he entered the room, after “warm-up act” Ben Gummer, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Ipswich, had got the ball rolling by trying to get some of those present to tell him what they wanted changed.

In such a tight time-frame, and with no time to break the ice, it was a meeting that could only ever give an impression, rather than produce any real policy nuggets.

Mr Cameron criticised unnecessary regulatory interference and pointed out that bureaucrats didn't need to “gold-plate” their regulations.

“It's absolutely possible not to gold-plate,” he told the audience.

He also laid into the no-win, no fee offers “which I think is driving the litigation culture”.

He agreed with those who wanted the EU-inspired Human Rights Act to go to be replaced with something of our own. He pointed out on HIPs that if you want a property survey, it might be better for the buyer to get the survey done, rather than rely on the vendor's. He also felt there was a worry that the Learning and Skills Council was becoming “quite a remote bureaucracy”.

Afterwards, Mr Cameron gave his impression of small businesses: “They are over-regulated, they are over-taxed, they need help,” he said. And he returned to a now familiar Cameronian theme: “How are we going to mend our broken society?”

n After meeting with local business leaders, Mr Cameron headed to the offices of the East Anglian Daily Times, where he met with editor Terry Hunt for an informal chat.

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