Industry leaders' New Year's resolutions: Let's resolve to stop petty squabbling, pay debts and shape up… or ship out

Louise Cooper joins industry leaders in hoping that this will be a year of recovery

New Year's resolutions have apparently been made for more than 4000 years when the ancient Babylonians promised to return borrowed objects and pay debts. Given the towering debt mountain the UK faces, the Government should follow the commitments of this ancient race in paying its dues. This year is likely to be the one when the UK loses its AAA credit rating and could be downgraded not just once but twice. Thus the Chancellor's main resolution must be to improve the nation's finances. The UK has benefited from massive quantitative easing – buying gilts – which has kept borrowing costs low. But any suggestion that we are coming to the end of QE, and international investors will take a long hard look at the country's debt. Prepare for that moment, Mr Osborne.

Another popular resolution is to try to get on better with family and to avoid arguments. I think this is also a good commitment for politicians of all parties. The UK faces a grave debt-laden economic future and our elected representatives should work together for the benefit of the country rather than focus on political point scoring. At times of war, MPs unite and although the security of this nation is not being threatened, our economic future is. Stop the sniping and begin co-operating.

I would also like to see more honest and open dialogue with the public. No more obfuscation of the real debt picture Mr Osborne, nor more condemning the cuts Mr Balls (because what else would you do?). We need a grown-up debate with the electorate as to what level of public service we can afford as a country because many of the present services – public-sector pensions, the benefits system, the NHS – are, sadly, unaffordable.

Atonement

For the banks, I suggest Yom Kippur rather than New Year as a source of inspiration. This day in the Jewish calendar is the Day of Atonement – time to reflect on one's wrongdoings over the year and both to seek and offer forgiveness. This is a good start for an industry mired in scandal. So, adopt a little humility, accept responsibility and actively help to clear up the filth. The UK benefits hugely from the strength and success of its finance industry, and Britons should cherish the City. But that will not happen if the few who have behaved appallingly mar the reputation of the rest. There is a desperate need to solve the problems of the past. Like many of us, the City is hung over from bingeing on the credit boom, sick with past over-indulgence. It is time to get fit, lose the fat and stop eating and drinking to excess. This is the year to shape up or ship out.

Help the savers

So what about British business, what should its resolutions be? Well the country's larger firms have already improved their finances considerably, paying down debt and hoarding cash. But many of these firms could help their employees with their finances. Last year saw auto-enrolment into pensions – the start of mandatory pension schemes for all employees in the private sector. So companies, do your bit and encourage your staff to save for their future. Match the contributions which your staff make for their retirement. This country desperately needs its citizens to take financial responsibility for their old age. Just as banks are criticised for a lack of social duty, so can companies be. Think of your wider responsibilities of this great nation of ours and the financial future of your employees. Let's look after the future of private-sector workers and not just public.

Most of us look forward to a new year with optimism, a chance to start afresh, a clean slate. Well, maybe that is also what we need from private business – more optimism, more excitement about the future.

As I said above, larger private businesses have money to spend but have been reluctant to splash out. A more positive attitude to hiring and investing could be a real shot in the arm for the UK. Let's look forward to this year more positively.

Gym'll fix it

What about me personally? I don't do New Year's Resolutions but I am writing this feeling slightly jaded after yesterday's lunch (it was a long one), having eaten cold pizza and chocolate for breakfast. Like many I'll head to the gym this month.

WILLIE WALSH

Chief executive of BA-owner International Airlines group and president of the London Chamber of Commerce

I'll continue to lobby the Government to set an effective growth strategy for the UK to complement actions to cut costs.

We must create the right environment to stimulate and support Britain's economic regeneration.

Links with key growth markets, especially in Asia, are vital and we must ensure Britain is open for business. The visa system for countries such as China needs to be changed urgently. People won't come here to do business if we make it too hard and expensive for them to get a visa – they will take their business and new-found wealth elsewhere.

China is investing over $110bn (£67.7bn) in a new Beijing Airport scheduled for completion in 2018. It will have a total of nine runways once completed. Phase one will include four runways and capacity for 72 million passengers.

We need to remove the shackles that inhibit aviation's ability to support Britain's economic regeneration. Cross-party political support for a coherent policy on aviation is paramount.

Britain is being left behind those countries whose governments value the importance of aviation to their growth strategy and provide the necessary infrastructure to enable the industry to flourish.

Axing Air Passenger Duty – the world's highest aviation tax – would be a major step in the right direction. This tax punishes hard-working families, destroys jobs and damages prospects for our economic recovery.

SAM LAIDLAW

Chief Executive of Centrica

Centrica and the energy sector make a major contribution to the UK economy, through investment, employment and the taxes we pay. This year we have a great opportunity to build on that to deliver the energy market of the future – what is needed now is clarity of policy through the Energy Bill to unlock investment, which is vital to the nation.

With household and business budgets under continuing strain, the Government, regulators and the industry all need to be ever more mindful of affordability. Together we must do more to make tariffs clearer and simpler and to help customers understand what makes up their energy bills.

HOWARD ARCHER

IHS Global Insight

My resolution this year is to try to find more positive things to say about the UK economy, although my concern is that this may be hard to do.

If I can do this, perhaps I can make a tiny contribution to improving confidence (on the likely misguided assumption that anyone actually reads anything I write) and helping the economy. Over the last four or five years, I've spent a lot of time depressing myself writing about the state of the economy. I will also try to make fewer embarrassing typos in my analysis notes. Happy New Year to the UK Economy.

JOHN REDWOOD

Former Cabinet minister and present chairman of Evercore Pan Asset Capital Management's investment committee

I would like Santa to dig deep this year, and send me gifts that all can enjoy. Let's start with a speedy UK recovery, with happy banks financing new jobs and ventures. Let's ask for a supercharged Chinese economy, so the world's motor is back in gear. Let's hope for an easy way down from the US fiscal cliff, without our all being poorer as the politicians argue.

Above all, I look forward to a New Year when the French and Germans feel the UK's pain and grant us a new trade-based relationship with their emerging political union and newly strengthened currency. We will just have to get used to all those pigs flying past the window.

CHRIS GRIGG

Chief Executive of British Land

I expect that the UK economy will continue to recover this year but only slowly. So our Government's policy and actions will be really important. Government needs to do even more to help companies grow. They need to help speed up the planning process, so that developers can invest more.

We must make sure that our need to raise taxes does not deter new investment. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has focused on the need to rationalise the so-called Community Infrastructure Levy but let's get a solution in place quickly. Air and rail travel is at the heart of much business activity in the UK today. Yet UK transport infrastructure is under real pressure. Crossrail will make a big difference to London later this decade. That's great but we cannot continue to dodge the issue of airport capacity in the South-East forever."

DAVID NISH

Chief Executive of Standard Life

It's that time of year again when we start thinking about the positive differences we want to make in the year ahead. In my case, that means how to make sure our industry supports the massive changes in pensions regulation that have just been introduced.

The savings industry in the UK is undergoing the furthest-reaching reforms we've ever seen, including the introduction of auto-enrolment into pension schemes to encourage more saving. The industry needs to reflect on how it can build on this important reform to serve its customers best, and work on closing the UK's £27 billion annual retirement savings gap, helping to make the UK a nation of savers again.

It's no secret that the financial crisis has led to an erosion of trust in financial services over recent years. This is something that the industry and regulators are tackling to make sure that auto-enrolment is a sustainable success. The opportunity exists to change the UK savings habit, and more widely support society and the UK's long-term economic growth.

JAMIE MATHESON

Executive Chairman of stockbroker Brewin Dolphin

There remains an unhealthy short-termist culture within much of the financial sector. We at Brewin Dolphin endorse the development of a savings culture within the UK with a long-term approach to investment.

Yet the landscape in which we operate is making that less conducive, choosing instead to reward the gamblers over the investors. This cannot be sensible and does not create a path to prosperity.

We need a tax system that rewards savers over day traders.

The present system works completely in reverse: investment in equities by private investors and pension funds is subject to 0.5% stamp duty, whereas CFD trading is tax free.

Saving for the future requires long-term thinking and expertise, not the instincts of a short-seller out to make a quick buck. So we believe the taxes raised from stamp duty on equities should at least be spread more thinly across other financial instruments with fewer social benefits.

BEN YEARSLEY

Head of investment research at Charles Stanley Direct

My financial new year resolution is quite simple, I am going to practise what I preach. I often analyse an investor's portfolio and one of my normal comments is that the investor has too many funds and investments and he or she needs to rationalise the portfolio. Having looked at my ISA and Sipp recently I have well over 50 different holdings — so one of my goals for this year is to get this down to a more manageable number and focus my portfolio on my best ideas.

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