View from City Road: Power to the chambers

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The Independent Online
If Michael Heseltine really wants the British Chambers of Commerce to be a focal point for businesses, he needs to stop wasting time and energy on his own initiatives, and give them the financial and political clout to attract influential members of their local communities.

Instead, a regular stream of initiatives from the President of the Board of Trade has been directed to the creation of organisations like Training and Enterprise Councils, which operate outside the chambers' spheres of influence.

It is ironic that Mr Heseltine is only now talking about the need for the chambers and TECs to merge; and doubly ironic that as he does so his government is putting all its energies into the latest in a round of small ideas, the zappily named 'Business Links'.

Business Links are supposed to provide a single access point for the services of TECs, local authority economic development units and the chambers.

It does not seems to have crossed the president's mind that the chambers themselves could have performed this function - as they do in France, for instance. True, the UK chambers tend to be much weaker animals than their Continental siblings. But that is partly a function of the fact they have little responsibility and even less power.

Politicians like to control their own patch. So it is only to be expected that Mr Heseltine would rather take the credit for setting up some new whiz bang network. But it all leads to lack of focus, rivalry and wasted effort. Things Britain can not afford.

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