Review: The Small Business Debate

On Monday 2 March, Your Ready Business attended Enterprise Nation’s Small Business Debate #SBDebate – a pre-election event hosted by founder Emma Jones, MBE. Conservative Minister for Enterprise and Energy – Matthew Hancock, Labour’s Shadow Small Business Minister – Toby Perkins, Liberal Democrats Ambassador for Women – Lorely Burt and Greens’ small business spokesman – Solihull Cllr Howard Allen took to the floor to take questions from a lively audience of entrepreneurs and business owners. Your Ready Business have compiled the highlights of the discussion.

Matthew Hancock re-iterated the Conservative commitment to make Britain the best place to start and grow a business – with policies that have generated 2 million more jobs to date (primarily from SMEs).

Lorely Burt discussed setting up the Green Bank and British Business Bank to support finance for SMEs. There’s a continuing desire to encourage manufacturing through apprenticeships. With red tape crippling all types of organisation, the party aims to minimise regulation via a “1 in 1 out” policy. Their overall goal is to enable a strong economy to deliver the services needed for a fairer society.

In an unexpected position, Howard Allen   stated the party is pro-business –  echoing the Lib Dems, business creates the taxes needed to fund public services. He highlighted they are  especially pro small business. Small business is the lifeblood of the local economy, with “a pound made locally circulating locally”. the big shout is that they are the only UK-wide anti-austerity party – austerity, in their view, having failed.

Toby Perkins stated Labour business policies have been derived from people in business. He outlined three key aspects of policy: Firstly, regulation that businesses can trust and plan for; standing up for the interests of SMEs, regarding issues like late payments and fairness on taxes; and increased advice and support – such as for exports.

Questions from the floor ranged from the EU, manufacturing and exports, to financing and supporting female entrepreneurship.

Taxes and rates

There was cross party support for a proposed review on business rates. The Conservatives committed to extending small business rates relief, and Labour promised to reduce rates for 1.5 million SMEs by retaining corporation tax at 21%. Both the Lib Dems and Greens agreed that the current system should be scrapped and replaced by a land value tax, which would lead to fairer costs for SMEs.

Manufacturing and export

The Conservatives want to “keep the foot on the gas”, with an aim to double exports to 1 trillion, and ensuring that UKTI does more to support SMEs. The Greens, on the other hand, while acknowledging a place for exports, wanted to focus on the trade deficit issue – and on encouraging UK businesses to look at local opportunities first.

Labour pledged to support manufacturing through certainty about maintaining the relationship with our largest trading partner – the EU (more on that topic below). Through building the skill base by increasing links between business and further education – devolving skills funding to local / regional levels to ensure that courses are relevant to needs.

The EU

Predictably, there was disagreement among the parties about Europe – with the Lib Dems stating that the proposed In/Out referendum creates uncertainty for business, and affects inward investment. This was refuted by their coalition partner, who believed that a referendum would resolve the uncertainty that’s out there.

SME finance

Both Labour and the Conservatives support greater access to EIS and SEIS tax breaks. Labour also desire more competition to banks from other sources of lending, such as peer to peer, CDFIs and credit unions. Both parties pledged more support for SMEs facing late payments. The Conservatives committed to all public sector payments being within 30 days, and ensuring transparency of practice by big businesses publishing their payment practices annually. Labour appeared to go a step further, proposing to penalise late-paying big businesses with interest on payments later than 30 days.

Female entrepreneurship

Childcare costs were blamed for stalling the progress of entrepreneurial women, and the parties were asked what they would do about it. The Lib Dems promised to extend the 15 hours free childcare from 3 and 4-year olds to include 2 year-olds and to make childcare tax deductible. Labour stated that this was a major policy area – stating that if the UK could achieve the same level of female entrepreneurship as the rest of the EU, it would eradicate the deficit. To enable this, they promise 25 hours free childcare for 3-4 year olds and to ensure that primary schools would stay open from 8am-6pm.