Not many self-described ‘centrist’ politicians would approvingly reference Karl Marx on their social media profiles, but businessman Dr Simon Biltcliffe – or @Marx4capitalism as he is known on Twitter – is cut from something of a different cloth.
The 56-year-old, from Barnsley, has been selected as the Yorkshire Party’s candidate for next May’s South Yorkshire mayoral election in the race to replace Labour’s Dan Jarvis when he stands down next year.
Dr Biltcliffe’s Twitter handle is a simple reference to the intriguing ‘Marxist-capitalist’ principle by which he has run his marketing services company Webmart for the past 25 years – following capitalist principles to generate income and profit but then sharing the profits amongst employees in bonuses while money has also gone towards rewilding 166 acres of land and donating £600,000 to charity.
He’s previously described the company’s approach as “a bit like John Lewis on speed”.
The firm’s most recent accounts showed a £306,000 profit for the last financial year and a recent Sunday Times column by James Timpson, the chief executive of Timpson Group, praised Webmart’s ability to make millions in sales with a staff of fewer than 40 people.
“Webmart is successful because of its culture and the way it recruits, based simply on raw talent and personality,” Timpson wrote. “Someone joins to take a specific role but the role immediately starts evolving based on the talents and interests of that individual.”
Dr Biltcliffe, who has a doctorate in business administration from Oxford Brookes University, says his business and political principles based on sharing wealth and opportunity date to witnessing the impact of the miners’ strike on people in South Yorkshire as a young man.
“There were no jobs and I had to move down South to get a career, then you get married and have kids and your life is somewhere else,” he says.
After working in sales, in 1996 Dr Biltcliffe took the leap to set up his own company in Oxfordshire.
“The company was driven by two principles – that people like to do the best they can given the opportunity and more than making money for the owner, the people who create the value deserve to share the value. This is where the Marxist-capitalist thing came from.
“We have 36 staff and just over £20m turnover so it is pretty efficient. It is a 25-year case study to show you can run an ethical business and still make money.”
Despite living down south, Dr Biltcliffe’s love of Yorkshire never dimmed and he was a regular visitor back to his home county – driven in part by his love of Barnsley FC, where he is a season ticket holder. “I may have left geographically but I never left mentally and emotionally. My heart has always been here.”
Just before the pandemic, he made the move back to Barnsley and has now decided to try his hand at politics.
“The best way you can make change at scale is politics,” he says. “The reason we all carry our own bags into the supermarket now is that the Government made a slight policy change that made a huge difference to our behaviour.”
He says as a disillusioned former Labour voter and a believer in Yorkshire-wide devolution, he has found a natural home in the Yorkshire Party.
“The Yorkshire Party is a centrist party but focused on a geographic area,” he says. “Yorkshire has more people than Scotland but we have got zero political representation at a local level. That wouldn’t happen in any other European country in the same way.
“It might not seem much of a difference but we see this as the South of Yorkshire mayoral election rather than the South Yorkshire election. If we work together as a region, we are stronger.
“You see recent decisions like the Integrated Rail Plan. I personally think HS2 is a daft idea but that money should have then been spent on East-West links. Sheffield to Manchester is basically a cart track if you drive and there is no fast train service.
“The Yorkshire Party has a clarity of focus and vision. Labour and the Conservatives say they will deliver policies for the North but they have a much wider brief and have to think about voters in other parts of the country.
“We have a stronger focus on how we deliver a better quality of life for all of the people of Yorkshire.”
He said one of his policy ideas is a twinning project between places in Yorkshire and the south of England. The aim would be to help southern-based companies set up bases in the North and establish links with existing companies in this area.
In the 2018 mayoral election, the Yorkshire Party finished in fourth place with 8.6 per cent of the vote.
But despite the odds being seemingly against him, Dr Biltcliffe insists: “I think we can win. People have seen the Conservatives are about words not deeds and although I think Dan Jarvis is a really commendable politician and somebody of the utmost integrity, I doubt many people could tell you what Labour actually stands for.
“The mayor is an ambassadorial role, it is about selling South Yorkshire to the rest of the country and the rest of the world as a great place to do business and live and retain the talent of our universities. There is a really positive story to tell.”
Pledge to donate mayoral salary to charity
Simon Biltcliffe says that if elected, he would donate the £79,000 annual salary for being South Yorkshire mayor to charity.
He says: “I instead will donate £20,000 each per year to the Samaritans in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
“My mum was a Samaritan for 30 years in Barnsley so I know the amazing support they give to the people of the region.”
He has also pledged to publish all expense claims online.
In addition to his business work, Biltcliffe is also chair of Barnsley FC’s Reds in the Community group and chair of the Ex-offenders Employability Group for HMP/YOI New Hall Wakefield and Askham Grange in York.
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