View from City Road: A dud issue for Heseltine

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The Independent Online
For those of you who idly wondered what else Michael Heseltine has been up to since taking over the reins at the Department of Trade and Industry, apart from opening one-stop shops, the answer is prosaic.

He has been going about comparing the performance of our trade associations with those in competitor countries and he has come to the conclusion that they do not measure up.

A good deal of their input to government is negative and of a low quality, he told an audience last night at the CBI (the granddaddy of all trade associations). Despite their proliferation, too many remained narrowly focused, poorly resourced and ill-equipped.

Change is needed, and urgently, says the President of the Board of Trade. He may make a start by freezing out those not up to scratch and taking representations from only one organisation in each sector.

Mr Heseltine is undoubtedly correct in his analysis. Apart from the handful of large umbrella bodies, such as the CBI and EEF, it has always been hard to see what purpose the massed ranks of smaller trade associations served other than to allow businessmen to grease one another's palms and let their hair down at the annual beanfest.

But is it a proper job for a Secretary of State to be stirring up such a fuss about an issue that is marginal at best when set in the context of British industry's bigger challenges?

Mr Heseltine keeps telling us he is not interested in headlines (hardly surprising after coal, Matrix Churchill and Asil Nadir). Well, he is guaranteed not to get too many this time around. Far better to let the dud trade associations be sorted out by those who bankroll them.