By Jason Theodorou

It may be the current unpopularity of MPs in the wake of the expenses scandal, but John Thurso seems keen to represent himself as more of a businessman than a politician. As Shadow Secretary of State for Business, he is the opposite number to Peter Mandelson, but in conversation Thurso never lets you forget that his entry to politics has been very different to that of a true Whitehall careerist. Before his entry to Parliament in 2001 he spent over twenty years working in the hospitality industry in Paris and London, and he retains strong links with business as President of the Tourism Society and the Academy of Food and Wine Service.

Thurso says he was brought into power because he ‘can speak business, and actually read a balance sheet’. When he speaks of the current government making decisions in ‘a little bunker in Whitehall’ he has a tone of personal indignation — and as Thurso maintains a small business with ‘three employees and a slightly difficult bank manager’, he perhaps has a case for speaking in the interests of small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

When asked what the Liberal Democrats have to offer SMEs in the face of the coming election, his theme is transparency and debate.

‘When it was necessary to raise more money, I wouldn’t sneak it in the back door… it’s incredible that in Parliament, a new tax can happen without proper scrutiny.’

Thurso argues that in a Liberal Democrat government, tough decisions would be made with consultation. ‘We would consult and talk to people… I won’t promise that taxes won’t go up, but that whatever I do, you will have a clear line of sight’.

When it comes to funding new enterprise, Thurso advocates the introduction of the Local Enterprise Fund — a scheme that would allow private investors to pool their resources to fund new business. ‘It’s sort of a local Dragon’s Den… What I think governments should do is create a mechanism for people to invest. I’ve provided in the Liberal Democrat budget for 120 of these groups’. Thurso is critical of the idea that government should pick ‘winners and losers’ in enterprise.

If the Liberal Democrats did win the election, what would Thurso seek to achieve for businesses? His answer is to, basically, get out of their way. ‘I know what it’s like. I want to take the unnecessary hassle away from business, and let them get on with the hassles they can deal with themselves, which is actually running their own businesses’.

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