Call for radical moves to kickstart growth

Allan Leighton, one of the UK’s best known businessmen, is calling on the Government to kickstart the economy with an ambitious growth programme to boost consumer confidence.

His solutions include reversing January’s VAT hike, boosting small business lending, strong backing for the UK banking sector and more engineering apprenticeships. His comments co-incided with shadow chancellor Ed Balls’ calls for VAT to be reduced to 17.5 per cent.

“We have to have an ambitious programme,” said Mr Leighton. “We need to get businesses feeling more confident. Some small businesses are struggling to borrow money.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

“Why wouldn’t the Government bring VAT down? It would help boost consumer confidence which is pretty low.”

Speaking at the launch of his new book Tough Calls, which includes interviews with 30 business and military leaders, the former Asda chief executive expounded his theories on how to make the right decisions in tough economic times.

Mr Leighton started writing the book nine months ago when he believed the economy would deteriorate.

“Businesses have some very tough calls to make at the moment. The definition of a tough call is one you don’t want to make,” he said.

“The Government has done a pretty good job, but we need a plan that has growth. No plan ever survives the first draft. You have to modify as you go.”

This is a recurring theme throughout the book – the need for businesses to have the guts to switch tack if they need to, while at the same time being decisive.

Tough Calls, which includes interviews with Dalton Philips, chief executive of Bradford-based Morrisons, and Andy Clarke, chief executive of Leeds-based Asda, also examines the views of two leading military figures General Sir Mike Jackson and General Lord Richard Dannatt.

Mr Leighton said he had the greatest respect for both generals.

“When you read their comments, you realise they were making really tough calls. Their tough calls are you live or you die.

“Sometimes the right thing is to say no,” said Mr Leighton. “You’ve got to say: ‘That’s nuts’ and then explain why.”

Mr Leighton believes that 10 years ago it was part of the UK corporate culture to refuse to change your mind.

“I wanted Dalton Philips and Andy Clarke in the book because it’s very important to get the views of younger CEOs. They are more flexible and have an ‘adjust as you go’ way of working.”

Mr Leighton expressed his high regard for both chief executives.

“The great thing about Yorkshire is you’ve got the head offices of two of the best retailers in the UK and the world.

“Dalton Philips is a very good retailer, he’s great with people and he is ideal for Morrisons right now. He has great judgment.”

Speaking about Mr Clarke, he said: “Andy is Asda through and through. He is putting it back to where it’s best,” he said, referring to Mr Clarke’s rejuvenation of Asda’s food offering and its 10 per cent discount price guarantee.

Mr Leighton admitted that his own leadership of Yorkshire companies has not always gone so well. He called his time at Leeds United, when the club faced massive debts and relegation, as “my most visible mistake”.

“With football you get driven by your heart not your head. Often your heart gets you in the wrong place,” he said.

“I wouldn’t do Leeds United again, it’s too emotional. In the end we had a cost base that was too high.”

Mr Leighton praised for his co-author, former journalist Teena Lyons, who hails from Leeds.

Tough Calls by Allan Leighton is out now. All royalties go to Breast Cancer Care.

Setting the Pace

PACE has the potential to become a leading global technology firm, according to new chairman Allan Leighton.

Mr Leighton admitted the Saltaire-based firm has had “its ups and downs” over the past year, but he said the group has an “amazing” reputation.

Mr Leighton, who has instigated a strategic review at the firm, said: “The review isn’t designed to change the whole of Pace’s strategy. You change around 20 per cent. When you speak to people outside Pace they say it has some of the best engineers in the world.

“I’d love there to be a great British technology company and it would be great to have it in Yorkshire,” he said.