Who is Jonathan Reynolds? Meet the UK’s new business secretary

Prime minister, Sir Keir Starmer has unveiled his cabinet. Who is Jonathan Reynolds, the new business and trade secretary, and what does he have in store for SMEs?

Our experts

We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
Direct to your inbox
Startups.co.uk Email Newsletter viewed on a phone

Sign up to the Startups Weekly Newsletter

Stay informed on the top business stories with Startups.co.uk’s weekly email newsletter


Lead image author: David Woolfall (https://members.parliament.uk/member/4119/portrait)

UK business has a new leader. Jonathan Reynolds has been appointed secretary of state for Business and Trade by Prime Minister Keir Starmer. Reynolds, who will be Labour’s first business sec since Ed Miliband, already faces a long list of demands from business owners.

Reynolds has been the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde in Greater Manchester since 2010. He was appointed Shadow Secretary for Business and Trade in 2023, after previously holding shadow cabinet roles in energy, transport, treasury, and work and pensions.

Despite being in the role for just three days, Reynolds has already been pedalled out onto the political TV circuit, appearing on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg yesterday. Below, we explore who Reynolds is, and what his first focus as the new business leader could be.

Who is Jonathan Reynolds?

Reynolds was born in the North East of England, near Sunderland, in 1980. The son of a fireman, he describes himself as coming from a “loving working-class family.”

His roots might be Mackem, but Reynolds was apparently made at Manchester University, where he gained a first-class degree in Politics and Modern History.

After university, he took a job as parliamentary assistant to James Purnell, the then MP for Stalybridge and Hyde. At the same time, he also became a trainee solicitor.

When Purnell announced he would resign in early 2010, Reynolds took up the mantle and became elected as MP for the area in 2010.

Since then, Reynolds has moved into various shadow cabinet positions, before being appointed as shadow secretary for business and trade in September 2023.

Among his other interests, he says he likes to walk his dogs, watch Mad Men, and grow fruit and vegetables in his allotment. He is also a devout Christian.

What will Reynolds do for small businesses?

Last November, Reynolds unveiled Labour’s Plan for Small Business in a speech at the Essex Chamber of Commerce in Basildon. Here are the policies that he has said his department will focus on delivering this year:

1. Business rates reform

One of the key points that Labour campaigned on this year was its pledge to reform business rates in order to revitalise the UK’s fledgling high street.

Business rates have been a topic of contention for brick-and-mortar businesses. Critics say they are a property tax that affects small firms already struggling to pay rising bills. In his speech, Reynolds said the new system will “reward expansion rather than disincentivising it”.

Labour has also pledged to tackle anti-social behaviour, answering a rise in the number of shoplifting offences, and unveil new powers for councils to take over empty shops.

2. Upskilling

UK businesses are being gripped by a skills shortage that has left many unable to hire for in-demand jobs such as AI.

Speaking at the Essex Chamber of Commerce, Reynolds said Labour will turn existing further education colleges into “new technical excellence colleges” across the UK to ensure firms “have the training courses provided locally to create the talent pipeline you need.”

Each new college will offer courses that match the specific skills required by local industries. Reynolds has not yet confirmed how many, or where, the colleges will be created.

3. Late payments

In autumn, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (DMCC) bill will give public bodies greater powers to clamp down on exploitative trading practices such as drip pricing.

Reynolds voted in favour of the bill when it was first proposed, one of many signals that he plans to be heavy on big business regulation and transparency. That includes late payments, a phenomenon that has contributed to many small business cash flow problems.

He has said he will introduce “new legislation to ensure all large companies will have to report on their payment practices and demonstrate they are prompt payers.”

4. Employment law reform

Employment law has always been a big area for Reynolds. He has previously supported a motion to prevent mass sackings after P&O Ferries made 786 staff redundant before replacing them with people on lower wages.

Labour will make major changes in this area. It has expressed plans to ban “fire and rehire” practices and exploitative zero-hours contracts, and introduce a day one right to sick pay.

The party has also suggested it will bring the national living wage in-line with living standards. This will raise concerns from cash-strapped business owners, some of whom have struggled to absorb the most recent minimum wage rise into their staffing budget.

5. Migration

Last year, the government raised the income threshold for overseas hires in a bid to curb legal migration. The new laws have hurt some hospitality firms struggling to fill hiring gaps.

Migration will likely be a big topic for Reynolds and the wider Labour party to tackle, but plans have so far been vague. Reynolds wrote in a blog post that “Labour’s detailed plan will reduce the reliance on overseas workers”, but exactly how this will be done remains unclear.

Reynolds aims to build back business confidence

During the Tory party’s 14-year reign the UK went through ten business secretaries, adding to the turbulence that SME owners experienced during COVID, Brexit, and two recessions.

Entrepreneurs will be hoping that Reynolds will be a more stable figure for Starmer’s tenure, to help them deal with the myriad of challenges faced by today’s companies.

It will be new territory for Labour. Starmer’s party has fought hard to win the entrepreneur vote from the Tories, who have historically been viewed as the party of business.

“Labour’s commitment to small business isn’t skin deep. It’s fundamental to the economy we want to build,” said Reynolds in his Basildon speech last year.

His task now is to prove that statement by introducing fair measures that can square Labour’s trade unionist legacy with the growth manifesto it has promised UK business owners.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

Leave a comment

Leave a reply

We value your comments but kindly requests all posts are on topic, constructive and respectful. Please review our commenting policy.

Back to Top