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Tory MP Margot James On The Eurozone, Exports And Thinking Beyond The EU

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MARGOT JAMES
Margot James Says The West Midlands Is No Longer In Recession | -

It seemed like a good week ('good' being a relative term) for HuffPost to chat to Margot James, the entrepreneur turned Tory MP for Stourbridge. The eurozone may have just had its worst week ever and the government is in knots over whether to relax unfair dismissal laws.

Both stories are of concern to the A-lister, elected in 2010 and launching a cross-party group looking at how to encourage trade and exports. "I think at the moment UK business has a number one challenge, which is to export more, the number two challenge is to export more beyond the European Union markets," she tells me on Monday afternoon.

To a point it's happening already - James is keen to point out that over the last economic quarter UK exports to the EU dropped, but our exports to the rest of the world increased by more than the drop in exports to the eurozone.

"That’s all to the good," she says, "But it’s not just the BRICs, there's 'The Next Eleven', that's one that I’m quite focused on - those are the high growth markets.

"Smaller markets, more emerging - that’s not quite the same developmental extent as China or India. Countries like Nigeria and Bangladesh - these have great growth potential for UK firms."

James won't say categorically that the Eurozone is about to go to hell in a handcart. But offers this: "The best insurance a company has is to look beyond the eurozone. It is anybody’s guess but the situation is extremely serious."

I put it to her that in all likelihood there'll be a second credit crunch later this year, triggered by Greece and spreading far and wide. "If the worst comes to the worst then the second credit crunch, as you call it, would be a whole lot worse than the first one was, without a doubt," she says, cautiously. "You could be talking about almost the entire banking sector collapsing in certain peripheral European countries. And the knock on effects, particularly to France. And some of our banks are exposed to some of the French banks."

"I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, though," she adds - and after all she is a loyalist, serving as Parliamentary aide to the Trade Minister Lord Green. She is, however pretty keen on some of the top-line proposals in the Beecroft report, finally published on Monday and clearly outraging Labour and annoying many Lib Dems.

The recommendation that some businesses should be freed from employment laws around unfair dismissal tribunals was rounded on by both Vince Cable and Nick Clegg, but James believes cutting red tape around employment laws needs to go further.

"There is no doubt that employment protection is far to weighted against businesses, it is a serious disincentive to employment," James insists. "There’s a lot of people who leave big companies to set up on their own, and leave with the words, ‘the last thing I’m going to do is employ anyone.’

"It’s very dangerous and damaging and it limits their growth as businesses, and it limits employment. The reason they feel that way is they’ve seen too many people get away with false and spurious claims. They don’t take people on."

James is in favour of exempting very small businesses - "that employ fewer than 10 people - and possibly fewer than 20 people" - from a large raft of employment law. "There has to be an option to have a much more informal relationship with employees if companies are going to start hiring," she says.

I wonder, though, whether voters in Stourbridge like her ideas? Certainly Tories in her region were given a major kicking at the local elections earlier this month - it was one of the worst results of the night. James blames the Tory drubbing on "a general lack of enthusiasm for Westminster" leading to a very low turnout among core voters. But she accepts that by not voting the party was being sent "a strong message."

Nevertheless James feels quite good about the economy in the West Midlands, saying as a region "it doesn’t feel like we’re in recession." But she admits: "The public are impatient of the government on a number of fronts," and accepts the tax cut for high earners from 50p to 45p was unpopular.

"I'm reasonably confident," she concludes. "But much depends unfortunately on the Eurozone. If the Eurozone doesn’t fall apart and our export markets in the EU at least stay where they are, if not grow, and if companies reach beyond the EU in their exports.

"We’re still a smaller economy than we were in 2008 but without doubt we need to make sure that when the economy grows our public expenditure does not grow commensurately, we have to get on top of this deficit and I’ve got absolute faith that the will stick to its course in that regard."

Around the Web

Margot James - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Margot James MP - Member of Parliament for Stourbridge

margot james (@margotjamesmp) on Twitter

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