A manifesto for business: what the startup community needs from this election

Rishi Sunak has declared a date for the 2024 election, and business voices want to hear ambition and commitment from party manifestos ahead of 4th July

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We come to it at last. After months of rumour and speculation, Rishi Sunak has set a date for the UK general election. On 4th July, just six weeks from now, voters will go to the polls to decide on the future leadership of the country.

For both Labour and the Tories, there’s a crucial business vote to capture. Sunak may have timed his announcement to align with the news of the UK’s decreasing inflation rate, but for UK businesses, there’s a lot more progress and commitment they’re keen to see. In an exclusive Startups survey of 546 UK small businesses conducted ahead of this election year, we found that 58% of business owners believed that a change in government in 2024 would have a positive impact on their prospects. Just 9% felt it would have a negative impact.

That sounds like bad news for the incumbent government. But, there’s a lot of ground for Kier Starmer’s Labour party to make up, too – the ‘Ming Vase’ strategy of not revealing details of their core policies has to now give way to the kind of statement manifesto that can catch the eye of the business vote.

We’ve spoken to startup and small business leaders in the UK to get a sense of what kind of policies they want to see from the soon-to-be-unveiled party manifestos.

“Take a cautious and balanced approach to AI regulation”

Businessman is using AI through his laptop computer in office to help them analyze data or generate virtual images and using big data as well as operating machines or information in the cyber system.

“Whoever is the leader of the next government will, almost by default, need to take a personal interest in and stance on AI.

“What we as AI entrepreneurs are hoping to see is a government that continues to take a cautious and balanced approach to regulation, and one that doesn’t just do the easy work of talking to big tech, but also the hard work of engaging directly with, and listening to the UK startups that will form the backbone of a healthy domestic AI economy.”

Dr Roeland Decorte, CEO and Founder of Decorte Future Industries

“Engage with entrepreneurs and give real incentives to buy from female-founded businesses”

Black, female woman shaking hands with white male to seal an agreement

“For a start, it’s about time we saw better engagement with the startup ecosystem.

“During the Coalition Cameron years, entrepreneurs were in and out of Number 10, right at the heart of things and the engagement was high. It’s been remote and disjointed in recent times. I’d like to see an energetic government focused on the high growth scene that truly listens.

“An example of it going wrong was the raising of high-net-worth individual thresholds without detailed consultation, which marginalised a huge group of female angel investors at a time when investment from women and into female-led businesses should be a priority. It was a genuine mistake and quickly redressed thanks to some campaigning from the ecosystem, but an example of what shouldn’t happen.

“With the election on 4th July posing a sooner possibility of a switch in government, I would like to see increased support for female entrepreneurs on the list of government priorities. Support and investment for female entrepreneurs has been minimal and performative, so the next government needs to focus on turning words into action.

“They need to be encouraging corporates to buy more from female founded businesses and smaller companies generally. Corporates are sclerotic and let down their customers by not looking beyond a cosy cartel of suppliers. But it needs a carrot, not a stick, approach to make it attractive enough for big companies to act. For a long time, the US has supported buying from female and minority-owned business with tax breaks and other incentives; it’s time we followed.”

Sarah Turner, Home Grown ambassador and Angel Academe CEO

“Support the science and technology communities and tech hubs”

Senior male researcher carrying out scientific research in a lab

“Whichever government we have next will need to think carefully about how to support the science and technology communities and tech hubs.

“Cambridge and its deep tech research, development and entrepreneurship in areas like AI, quantum, semiconductors and new materials play a key role in growing our economy – it’s vital that the next government recognises this with policies and following action to match, to improve public services and create high skilled jobs that can power it forward.”

Chris Bruce, Chairman of Cambridge Tech Week

“Take a light touch approach to regulation of inventions”

“A common-sense and ‘light touch’ approach to regulation of inventions in industries such as biomanufacturing will be welcomed by innovative businesses across the country looking to take their products and services to market, and this should be prioritised by the next government.

“For example, in the biomanufacturing space, there is a risk that heavy-handed regulation could prevent UK companies from exploiting their existing competitive advantage.

“On the funding and investment side, there is an increasing feeling that the Mansion House Reforms, which have been such a focus for the current government, do not go far enough to unlock the potential of pension investments. More reforms in this space are needed if the UK is to keep its competitive edge.”

David Holt, Partner and IP Solicitor at Potter Clarkson

“We need clear goals on construction”

Construction Finance

“There’s a significant gap between renters and affordable properties with only around 20,000 affordable homes becoming available annually and the number of first-time buyers at a 10-year low last year. We need clear goals on construction and explicit guidance on the funding the government will allocate to the housing sector.

“It would be a significant achievement if the Leasehold Reform Bill is passed before the general election. Additionally, we need clarity on the new government’s stance on Shared Ownership. Currently, it’s the only viable option for first-time buyers in London without the bank of mum and dad. If the government plans to back Shared Ownership, we need to understand their strategy for significantly increasing the supply of new Shared Ownership homes, given the massive shortage.”

Floris ten Nijenhuis, Founder of Stairpay

“Peace in Europe requires funding and innovation”

“The elected government must prioritise defence and international cooperation. Not only does the UK need to safeguard itself and bolster its own defence capabilities, financial support for its allies is also important.

“What we have seen since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine is global instability, from food scarcity to soaring fuel and energy prices. Peace in the region requires funding and innovation, and whichever government is elected on 4th July must invest in technology (and the companies spearheading this) that will help achieve and maintain security.”

Andriy Dovbenko, Principal and Founder of UK-Ukraine TechExchange

“Ensure that the UK is a world leader in space”

“Skyrora would like to see investment in the space sector on the list of any government’s priorities. The innovative and intensive nature of the industry means that we require support from all levels – in the form of public and private investment – to ensure that the UK is a world leader in space.

Unlocking space is key to unlocking a thriving economy and will also play an important role in the nation and its allies’ defence capabilities.”

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO and Founder of Skyrora

Written by:
Richard Parris - managing editor of Startups.co.uk
Richard joined the Startups team in 2021, and has a career in publishing that has spanned over 15 years. As a researcher, writer and editor, Richard has worked on brands across the UK, US and Asia in both print and online, including at the BBC, on the US-focused tech industry site Tech.co, plus at Which? magazine and its website, where Richard oversaw technology reviews and advice publishing. Richard has been an interviewee and contributor on television, radio, newspaper, magazine and online publications, and has featured in interviews including on the BBC and The Scotsman. Richard is passionate about converting potentially complex topics into clear, actionable advice and recommendations, and works alongside the in-house Startups team and its growing network to promote the needs of the UK small business community.

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