Billionaire John Caudwell pins UK's lost growth on 'clueless' election rivals

Property developer tells The National that green and clean tech companies need to be given special tax breaks to lift GDP

John Caudwell, the billionaire founder of retailer Phones4u, is unimpressed with the candidates for high office. Reuters
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One of the UK's highest-profile businessmen has declared the litmus test of the government elected on July 4 will be a green and clean technology strategy that makes up for lost growth years.

John Caudwell, a telecoms tycoon turned property developer, commissioned the Council on Geostrategy think tank to produce a report on the Road to Net Zero targets that found the UK had dropped off track.

The Caudwell Strong Britain report said the opportunities afforded by net zero were being lost by a lack of government vision paired with unfocused investment strategies and an “unattractive environment for skills and talent”.

While Mr Caudwell recognises that some of the UK's failures in this regard are starting to be addressed, such as investment in research and development, the UK risks falling further behind the US, Europe and China.

“It’s no good saying ‘the Tories have done a dreadful job, so we’ve really got to support Labour',” he told The National.

“We’ve only got to support Labour if they’re going to do a better job and they’re only going to do a better job if they have the right policies."

Running an economy should be the same as running a business. It's all to do with income, costs and bottom-line profits, but with a general election in the UK looming, Mr Caudwell has little faith in any of the politicians seeking high office after July 4.

“Our country has done a disastrous job of growing GDP,” he told The National.

“It’s done a disastrous job of investing in technology and infrastructure and, therefore, we’re in the doldrums – we’ve got very little GDP growth.”

Mr Caudwell, who with a $3.3 billion fortune makes it into the Forbes list of the world's 1,000 richest billionaires, used to donate to the ruling Conservative party but became disillusioned with the government's lack of action.

The founder of the UK mobile phone retailer Phones4u also believes British politicians continue to see net zero as a costly chore rather than an opportunity to fundamentally swing the economy into a mode that creates jobs and improves incomes.

Born in Birmingham, in the UK's Midlands, and raised in Stoke-on Trent, Mr Caudwell is a self-made billionaire who spotted the potential of mobile communications technology in the 1980s. When he sold the Caudwell Group for £1.46 billion ($1.87 billion) 20 years later, the 600 UK Phones4u stores were selling 26 mobile phones every minute.

His property company is currently developing a site in London's Mayfair it values at £2 billion.

Experts predict the project will help seal the central London neighbourhood’s reputation as the world’s most expensive address.

1 Mayfair, which is being built on the site of a former car park and hotel, is scheduled for completion in late 2025. It is on the doorstep of Park Lane and Hyde Park, close to Mount Street and will feature 24 main apartments, with five further studios and staff suites.

Well known for his philanthropy, Mr Caudwell is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, the charity founded by Warren Buffett, Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates through which the global wealthy donate much of their earnings and estates to needy causes. Mr Caudwell has pledged to give away 70 per cent of his wealth during and after his life.

His growing frustration at the current Conservative government has been inversely proportional to what he sees as its continual “watering down” of net-zero commitments, while at the same time he watched the opposition Labour Party cut back on its pledge to invest £28 billon each year into green projects until 2030.

“I’m extremely frustrated about the lack of initiative, the lack of ability, the lack of commercialism, and we’ve made a dog’s ear of this country over the last 15 years,” Mr Caudwell said.

“I’m more in favour of giving special [tax] treatment to businesses that will bring high technological and scientific products to the UK, especially at the forefront of the environment. They should be encouraged to come to the UK, because that’s where the export is going to be in the future.

“We ought to be the Silicon Valley for the environment and we’re not.

'Haven't got a clue'

“If they don’t employ some of the policies that I’m recommending to them, they won’t do a good job,” he added. “They’ll do a dreadful job and they’ll make some big mistakes.”

One of Mr Caudwell's recommended policies surrounds the creation of an independent panel to assess a company's green credentials and viability, as well as its ability to create and grow higher-paid jobs before granting, through the government, a UK tax holiday to such start-ups or new market entrants.

“I was telling Boris [Johnson] this at the start of the pandemic,” Mr Caudwell recalled.

“What have the Conservative party done? Nothing. I kept telling him what he needed to do. I told Rishi [Sunak]. And now I’ve told Keir [Starmer]. What will they do?”

As far as the general election on July 4 goes, Mr Caudwell describes himself as “a bit lost” when it comes to which party will get his vote.

“All the time [politicians] are focusing on votes in the next election,” he told The National.

“They rarely seem to do the right thing for the country and they certainly have not got a clue how to grow GDP. They just haven’t got a clue.”

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Updated: June 07, 2024, 9:12 AM