Memory Lane

Grundon Waste Management’s deputy chairman, Neil Grundon, asks whether a trip down memory lane could hold the key to the UK’s economic future… He says the private sector needs more support from our legislative powers-that-be.

As a child growing up in the 1970s, there were several constants. Firstly, we got to use our torches every winter and eat dinner by candlelight because the government had problems powering things; secondly, if you watched the test card long enough Lassie would eventually appear; and thirdly, the Imperial Hotel Torquay heralded the start of the summer holidays.

The Imperial was a place of such opulence it was breath-taking. There was a man in a hat who would help dad park his car, there were giant marble ashtrays filled with sand, and even the brass on the elevator was shiny enough to see your face in. The room keys had tassels, the restaurant looked out over the bay, your names were announced at dinner, prawn cocktail had just been invented; and we thought the toast served with the paté came from a glamorous place called Melba.

After dinner there was dancing, which was embarrassing, especially when you are seven-years-old and, when it was finally time to retire, the walk to bed seemed to take several hours compared to home.

There were some downsides – the saltwater outdoor pool was home to a pair of Emperor penguins. Of course, it wasn’t really, but I can’t think of another creature that would not suffer a heart attack on entering its polar waters; while the corridor carpet would build up enough static to deliver some sizable shocks when touching someone else’s hands. Oh, and the hotel shop only sold decorative marble eggs.

My message to government is clear – it is the private sector that by and large keeps the economy running and it could do so even better with more support from our legislative powers-that-be

None of which distracted from the fanciness of it all, and the joy that this was the one holiday that the Inland Revenue would allow dad to write off on expenses – let me explain why.

Unbeknown to my sister and I, this was the annual dustman’s convention, where the state had paid for every council leader and county engineer to go on holiday.

Looking back, it seemed a wholly sensible thing to do, given that the state also bought all the councils’ dustcarts, employed all the dustmen and street sweepers, gravediggers, coal miners; and the two men who sat in a little shelter at the end of our road digging a hole and filling it in all year round.

This was fine until the International Monetary Fund told the country that there was no money left because all the rich people had gone to live in submarines on the Thames or dancing in the Caribbean (maybe I exaggerate slightly).

They had been told they were going to be ‘squeezed until their pips squeaked’, which only really left Woolworths propping up the economy. Many years later Woolworths collapsed as well, proving that ‘pick and mix’ is no real way of reigniting an industrial strategy.

UK industry had to change and change quickly, and the only way to do that was to sell it off to our overseas friends with deeper pockets. After all, for as much as Torquay might call itself the English Riviera, these guys owned the real ones with proper sunshine and stuff called rosé that didn’t come in a funny-shaped bottle from Portugal.

So why all this nostalgia and what am I trying to say as I reminisce?

I certainly don’t think most people want to see a return to state ownership for all the services such as street cleaning – and I’m pretty sure the people of Birmingham would vote for more choice as they watch their streets piling up with rubbish thanks to a dispute between the council and the refuse workers.

My message to government is clear – it is the private sector that by and large keeps the economy running and it could do so even better with more support from our legislative powers-that-be.

More investment in British industry, a reduction in red tape and giving sectors such as ourselves the ability to take charge of its own rules and regulations would go a long way towards helping us.

So politicians, please don’t ignore the private sector, keep a wide tax base, remember that British firms buy British things, and always look to the future.

Enjoy your holidays, wherever they may be.

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