Please, Mr Chancellor...

Pre-Budget special: expectation and frustration. What businessmen want from the Chancellor
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The Independent Online
Six leading businessmen present their wish lists for Gordon Brown ahead of Tuesday's Budget

Maurice Segal - chief executive of Expotel, the UK's largest hotel bookings agency.

If Maurice Segal, chief executive of Expotel, had his way, the only change in the Budget would be a reversal of the decision to cancel profit- related pay (under which employees received tax-subsidised bonuses pegged to company profits). "It is a great incentive for staff." Mr Segal knows Mr Brown will not reinstitute the plan, so his message to the Government is "hands off" the economy. "If they leave everything as it is we'll be happy. Don't start meddling with the engine if there is nothing wrong with it."

For Mr Segal, whose London-based company employs around 200, this means also not spending on job creation. "We have one of the lowest unemployment levels in Europe. The country is working already."

Expotel's chief is also opposed to taxes on company car parks and extra tax on fuel, although he would welcome car-sharing incentives. Mr Segal, who enjoys the odd whisky, says should Mr Brown raise taxes on alcohol, he should do it on spirits, not beer. "Don't hit the working man."

Brian Rice, chairman of London Dial-a-Cab.

London's 19,000 registered taxi drivers would gain from Budget measures to curb the use of private or company cars. However, other "green" proposals, like a levy on inner-city road use, could be detrimental.

Company cars are likely to feature high among the Chancellor's targets, and there are expectations that a proposed system of taxing individuals for private mileage on company vehicles could spell the end of the "perk" car.

There has also been talk of a tax on workplace parking spaces, localised tolls and a supplement on the road tax for those driving in city centres. Some estimates suggest that a tax on parking alone could raise pounds 3bn a year to spend on public transport and cut the number of cars clogging the streets.

"If there is a tax on private cars, more people will take train and then taxis to work," says Brian Rice, chairman of Dial-a-Cab, the London black- cab co-operative. But, he says, any tax on road use would be passed on to customers.

Mr Rice's ideal Budget would contain no fuel-price rises and exempt registered taxis from tolls or road-tax supplement, or at least give reduced rates.

Paul Batchelor, commercial director, British Car Rental.

Car rental companies are painting themselves green ahead of the Budget, putting themselves forward as a clean and flexible element in the transport network.

Paul Batchelor, commercial director of Coventry-based British Car Rental, sees short-term rental as an environmentally friendly option for individuals and businesses discouraged from bringing cars into city centres.

"We see ourselves as part of the solution to the problem rather than a creator," says Mr Batchelor, noting that rental companies tend to use only new, low-polluting cars, and provide pick-up and delivery services that get cars out of congested city areas as quickly as possible. Car- rental firms are now lobbying the Government for city-centre parking spaces allocated specifically for short-term rental cars.

A spokesman for the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association expects short-term car rental companies to benefit from any environmental measures in the Budget, though long-term leasing would be likely to suffer.

Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents.

Mr Dunsmore-Hardy is a world expert on Miras - mortgage interest tax relief at source. Miras provides 15 per cent relief on the interest on the first pounds 30,000 of a mortgage. In line with Gordon Brown's Budget last July, this is coming down to 10 per cent.

Any further decrease in Miras, says Mr Dunsmore-Hardy, could damage confidence in the still-fragile housing market. While he appreciates arguments in favour of abolishing such a small benefit, he warns that it could be the last straw for first-time buyers, as well as the 6.5 million homes earning less than pounds 20,000 and receiving Miras.

"The decrease in Miras to 10 per cent is not in itself dramatic, but in conjunction with recent interest-rate increases, it could cause people to rethink their purchasing power," he said. "We need to encourage those on the bottom rung of the property ladder."

The last Miras cut was aimed at cooling a booming housing market, but Mr Dunsmore-Hardy says the market, particularly outside London, is still in the delicate early stages and could be derailed.

Warren Hardy, chief executive of European Telecom.

Warren Hardy's concerns about the Budget centre chiefly on personal issues rather than those affecting his fast-growing mobile phone distributor.

Pointing out that he could think of little - other than support for companies preparing for the year 2000 computer problem - that would directly affect his business greatly, he says that capital gains tax and inheritance tax were "at the forefront of my mind".

Capital gains are a pertinent issue: when he sold about pounds 15m of shares at the time of the company's flotation last year, he paid about pounds 6m in tax. He will be looking for indications of changes to inheritance tax because he will be concerned about passing on substantial assets after he dies. ET has a turnover of more than pounds 140m and a market capitalisation of around pounds 80m.

However, Mr Hardy sees little sign that the Budget will dampen an economy which he sees as likely to provide another four to five years of buoyant conditions for selling mobile phones.But he is expecting some pain from increases in tobacco and petrol duty.

Laurence Isaacson, deputy chairman of Groupe Chez Gerard.

The up-market restaurant operator caters to the City and tourists in London's West End. Laurence Isaacson has no doubt about what should top Gordon Brown's agenda. "We would not recommend a giveaway Budget at this stage - it is in everyone's interest to keep inflation in check. Nor do we want rising wage costs: that means rising costs for the consumer."

Closer to home, Chez Gerard results last October revealed a shortage of skilled staff, which could curtail growth. He would like Mr Brown to invest in more training: "There is a skills shortage. More money has to be put into hotel and catering colleges. This is one of the most exciting, growing businesses - the hospitality industry is the second-largest in the country and employs 7 per cent of the workforce."

He would like VAT rebates for theatre, music and opera tickets, and for tourists staying in hotels to counter the strong pound. He also wants a minimum wage. "We already pay the minimum wage, so it wouldn't hurt us, but it would attract more people into the restaurant business."

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