Posts Tagged ‘COSIRA’

Helping Labour to Win in the Countryside: Encouraging Rural Industry

December 16, 2018

As well as helping to bail out farmers, Labour could also help to reverse the decline of the countryside by encouraging businesses to relocate there. Shirley Williams, the former Labour politician who defected to found the SDP, which merged with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems, discusses this possibility in her 1981 book, Politics Is For People, published by Penguin as an example of what may be done to promote small businesses. She writes

The Wilson Committee jibbed at setting up a Small Business Agency, though the case for its seems strong. What the Committee did propose was a loan guarantee scheme, under which loans to small businesses would be partially underwritten by the banks, and an English Development Agency with similar powers to those of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies in relation to small firms. Thresholds for government support schemes which small firms are unable to cross, the Report said, should be reviewed.

This would be a useful start, but if the long drift towards concentration is to be reversed, much more is needed. The new agency should positively go out and look for products and services which small firms can produce, as COSIRA (Council for Siting Industry in Rural Areas) has done so successfully in rural areas. New firms should be able to qualify for capital loans at a subsidized interest rate, and they should be entitled to similar help when they reach the breakthrough point of rapid growth. This is the stage at which many small innovatory firms go under, because they cannot finance expansion on the scale needed to meet demand. Good legal and accounting services should be readily available through the new agency, which should also offer advice on government schemes that may be helpful. Red tape and form-filling needs to be kept to a minimum, since small firms rarely have the bureaucracy to cope with complicated application forms. The Microelectronic Applications Project introduced by the Labour government of 1976-9 has been successful in attracting several thousand requests for its consultancy scheme, not just because the government met the first 2,000 pounds of the consultant’s fees, but because the procedure for applying is so simple. (p. 121).

Williams is far from my favourite politician because of her role in founding the SDP and its subsequent move to the right. She is also personally responsible for helping the passage of Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill, which is part of the Tories’ continuing privatization of the NHS, through parliament by voting for it when others, like Dr. David Owen, voted against. But the book has interesting ideas. It struck me that IT is industry that could easily me moved to the countryside, if only in the form of software developers, who may not need quite so much expensive plant.

Many working people have dreams of running their own businesses, and G.D.H. Cole in one of his books on socialism argued that socialists should make common cause with small businesspeople against the threat of big business. And it is big business that is also threatening the countryside. As George Monbiot has described in his book, Captive State, the big supermarkets drive out the small businesses in their areas. This has a devastating effect on the area generally, as these industries employ more people than the supermarkets themselves. Furthermore, the supermarkets use very exploitative contracts to force their suppliers to provide them with goods at very low prices. New Labour and no doubt the Tories after them have done much to harm the country generally as well as rural areas by supporting the big supermarkets, like Sainsbury’s, against local shops like grocers.

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