What does the word ‘profit’ mean to you?
To me it signifies growth, prosperity, job creation, investment, innovation and more tax revenue for public services.
However, it has increasingly become a word with negative connotations. People with an anti-business agenda are, too often, dictating the narrative. It is this time this narrative was reclaimed and whoever is elected as the new Liverpool Mayor has to take the lead.
Max Caller’s report into failings within Liverpool City Council made grim reading. It alludes to unhealthy relationships between the council and elements of business. On a national level we see allegations of cronyism and corruption in Government procurement.
Corruption and cronyism exist in both the public and private sectors, in local authorities, in Government, in the trade union movement and in corporations. It isn’t a product of left or right, of capitalism or socialism. Some people are just greedy and corrupt.
It is against such a backdrop that populist political figures create an ‘us and them’ narrative. Business people are portrayed as greedy and rapacious. Look at how many times ‘billionaires’ was used as a pejorative term during the 2019 General Election campaign.
So profit becomes a dirty word, shareholders (much more likely to be pension funds investing on behalf of ordinary people than individual fat cats) are abstract and despised figures taking food out of the mouths of hungry children.
Last year I wrote about Tony Caldeira, a Liverpool textiles entrepreneur. He founded his business, Caldeira, as a stall on Great Homer Street Market. Now he employs dozens of people at his Merseyside factory. All the things I listed above – investment, jobs, innovation, paying more tax – are an intrinsic part of Tony’s story.
But Tony has committed a cardinal crime for these parts. He is a member of the Conservative party and has run for election. In a reply to me on Twitter, one Liverpool Labour councillor dismissed his achievements and simply referred to him as “a Tory who makes cushions”.
In the last few days, one of the candidates for Mayor of Liverpool has talked about wanting a Liverpool that “welcomes proper investment” and “shows cowboys and chancers the door”.
On the surface it may seem to be a reasonable sentiment. But, to me, it feels a bit like playing to the anti-business gallery, feeding the narrative that business is intrinsically untrustworthy. Is a starting point of suspicion the best way to attract investors to a city that already lags behind other regional cities?
Businesses are part of society and part of our communities. They are not separate. Therefore they are subject to the same social contract as the rest of us. They have an obligation to be good citizens and conduct their activities in an ethical way.
Many do offer time and resources for the wider benefit of the community. There are myriad examples in Liverpool. The latest being Team Liverpool, an initiative that will see business leaders and entrepreneurs offer free support and advice to businesses looking to open up again after the pandemic.
But we must also remind people that, for all the extra-curricular activities, a business benefits the community most when it is growing and trading successfully. It pays more tax, it employs more people, it spends more money in the supply chain, it invests in technology and machinery.
Profit is good but, too often, we have allowed those who are ideologically opposed to business and free markets dictate the narrative. Too many of those people are here in Liverpool. If we want our city to prosper we have to counter that narrative.
When Liverpool’s new mayor takes office, she or he needs to make clear from the start that we are open for business. That we are committed to creating an environment where local businesses can prosper and external investors are welcomed.