John Allan is chief executive of Exel, the global logistics company with operations in over 135 countries. It transports a range of products, from food to medicines, by land, air and sea, by lorry and rail. Its customers include 75 per cent of the world’s largest companies.
Q. What would you like the next government to do about skills?
Allan: The transport and logistics industry is facing quite significant skills shortages at various levels from heavy goods vehicle drivers to skilled logistics professionals in the supply chain.
There are no quick answers to this issue, but we would like the government to continue to support the various initiatives that promote greater skills development in which our industry has been active.
We would also like them to keep the country relatively open to skilled immigrants who are one way of alleviating the skills shortages. I think Britain cannot only benefit from immigration in this area but can also benefit from people being trained here before going back to their countries of origin.
Q. What would you like the next government to do about regulations?
Allan:There is an unfortunate tendency in the UK to gold plate new regulations from Brussels. One of the things my industry has to cope with is the working time directive. The UK is introducing that directive in a much more thorough and a much speedier way than the vast majority of our European neighbours.
We would like the government to sit on its hands when it comes to implementing EU rules and to really question what regulations could be repealed. All the political parties pledge that they would repeal unnecessary legislation but I don’t think we have seen any evidence of any party taking that seriously.
Q. What would you like the government to do about taxation?
Allan: It is very easy for business to say that we would like to have lower taxes, but I accept that the scope for cutting taxes is limited. What businesses want is stability in taxation, which enables them to plan ahead, and not to have unnecessary complexity.
My request for anyone forming a government would be to keep corporation taxes relatively low because they are a factor in attracting foreign investment in the UK.
Some countries we are competing with in eastern Europe are cutting corporation taxes aggressively. I don’t think we have to go that far, but we need to be competitive.
Increases in National Insurance is not only a tax on employees but also a tax on employers.
Q. What would you like the next government to do about transport?
Allan: If the UK is going to be a growing and efficient economy we are going to have to have a decent transport system. Over a period of time, governments of all complexions have failed to invest in an adequate transport system.
What we need, whatever party is in power, is a commitment to a decent level of investment to give us a modern transport sector. Secondly, we need some long-term stability in transport policy.
It would be very helpful for businesses making decisions about where to manufacture or place distribution facilities to have some assurance as to what the local transport infrastructure is going to be like.
I am personally supportive of introducing road user charging for all vehicles at some point. We are not going to solve problems of traffic congestion by building more roads but roads are going to play a part but we need to control demand by charging a fair price for the most congested roads.
Q. What would you like the next government to do about immigration?
Allan:There is no doubt in my mind that the UK economy has benefited from a flow of mostly economically productive migrants to this country - some of them for keeps and some of them for just a period of time.
I hope that politicians will behave responsibly and not just play to what they think some elements of the electorate should want by resorting to demagogy. I don’t think people realise how much of the UK economy needs continued sensible levels of immigration. There is an awful lot of double talk about limiting the number of migrants. Frankly, I don’t think you can do that.
Q. How did you vote in the last election and how do you intend to vote in 2005?
Allan: I voted Labour in the last election. I haven’t made up my mind about this election but I may well vote in the same direction, but it will depend what I hear from the parties on the issues we have been talking about.
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