Marcus Johnson, chief executive of NW Brown Group in Cambridge, reveals his thoughts and wishes for Cambridge in 2013, including the view that health and safety probably kills more people than it saves, that the government devotes almost as much effort to stopping the banks working as it does to saying they are not working properly, and that limited liability should not be given away with cornflakes.
I expect Cambridge to continue to be a boom city, certainly compared to the rest of the UK. Our academic, medical and technological world leaders continue to attract the best brains in the world.
The Autonomy effect, as several of those who made fortunes from their inspiration and perspiration try to reinvest in new companies, has at least a couple of years to run.
We have several problems which hold us back and my top 10 wish list mainly involves central and local government reducing controls and getting out of the way of enterprise:
1. Immigration: In a free market we would be bringing in the top students, researchers and technologists. The controls which stop this happening hold back all sorts of developments and push them elsewhere. This more than any other factor threatens the future of Cambridge, as it does the UK generally.
2. Drugs policy: The pages of the Cambridge News are too frequently giving evidence of the consequences of the populist policies pursued by far too many of our politicians at the expense of all of us.
From the PM downwards all those who have researched the problem know that the current policy fills the prisons, enriches criminals and encourages crime. Drug addicts need help, not punishment. Supply, regulate and control and take the violence out of Cambridge streets and car parks.
3. Tax: We have a tax system which penalises success and rewards failure. It is inevitable that it should do so at the personal level as no civilized modern society will let those who through ignorance or improvidence fail to provide for themselves, starve or die through exposure.
But by doing it at the corporate level by taxing profits to subsidise loss makers and uneconomic enterprises, the government destroys incentives to the detriment of may Cambridge enterprises, but worse, it leaves trading those who can compete only because of the subsidies and tax breaks they receive.
4. Banks: Even Cambridge needs banks to be able to finance trade and expansion. The government devotes almost as much effort to stopping the banks working as it does words to saying they are not working properly.
On the right hand it taxes them, fines them and asks them to have ridiculously high levels of capital. On the left hand it offers subsidies to lend to people it chooses, criticises for failing to lend more and tries to get them to expand into geographically and economically unattractive areas.
The only appropriate role for government here is as a regulator of size and solvency, and today it fails to do either well.
5. Industrial policy: If the government left enterprise and business to the private sector the Cambridge effect would spread much further and faster.
The government will never have an industrial policy which works, it is self contradictory and wastefully employs far too many sensible, useful people who could be doing real jobs.
The existence of grants and free or subsidised financing diverts effort into seeking subsidies rather than profits, to all our detriment.
6. Local government: We have too many tiers, too much detailed regulation of building, planning and development.
A Cambridge unitary authority which zoned areas for development and then left the developers free to do entirely what they wanted within those areas would enable better and more efficient use of land than the current confused and confusing detailed control structure.
7. ‘Elf and Safety probably kills more people by diverting resource from enterprise than it ever saved from injury.
There is a fundamental problem that no-one ever looks at the costs of new regulations fully or has regard to the fact that resources devoted to unnecessary form- filling are actually reducing the amount we spend on education, health care and other public services which really do save lives.
8. Limited Liability: Should be a privilege to be earned and not just given away free with cornflakes.
Company directors who preside over more than one company that legally steals from its creditors via bankruptcy should never again be allowed to be shareholders or directors of limited liability companies.
Protecting enterprises from competition is no role for government, but those who repeatedly take out artificial profits and then let their companies go bust are not businessmen, they are con artists and the government encourages them by allowing limited liability to anyone who registers at Companies House.
9. Competition: The government should have a competition policy which is objective and predictable. Any business with a market share above 5% in any industry should face a progressive monopoly tax.
The disadvantages to the rest of society of their monopoly power would thus be offset and their competitors would gain an advantage. A corporation tax of 2% on turnover which increased by 2% for every 1% increase in market share above 5% would be all that was required. And such a tax system would be very beneficial to new and smaller companies in Cambridge.
10. Infrastructure spending: Cambridge needs better rail links and better public transport but the majority of journeys will be private however much these improve.
At the moment cycling in Cambridge is widespread in spite of council policies rather than because of them. Road humps and traffic lights rarely accommodate cyclists.
The council encourages nimbyism with parking restrictions and road closures which impede its citizens more than visitors. All local councilors know we will have road pricing one day and Cambridge will not move better until we get it and the resources it will release for improvements.