What are the small business policies of the main political parties?

Startups.co.uk attended the Small Business Debate to find out what Conservatives, Labour, LibDem and the Green Party are planning for Britain’s small firms…

General Election fever is building so it’s no surprise tension between the major political parties is hotting up. And last night the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats (LibDems) and the Green Party made their case for the small business vote.

The Small Business Debate, hosted by Enterprise Nation at the ICAEW’s Great Hall, aimed to tackle the questions “that matter” for Britain’s small firms with each party explaining their policies on tax, business support and international trade.

The panellists:

• Matthew Hancock, Conservative minister of state for business and enterprise
• Toby Perkins, Labour shadow minister for small business
• Lorely Burt, LibDem’s ambassador for Women in Enterprise and MP for Solihull
• Howard Allen, Green Party spokesperson for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and candidate for Solihull

Despite a no show from UKIP; to which moderator Emma Jones MBE said with a hint of irony “was a real shame”, the debate raised some interesting, controversial points including Labour’s plans to bring in additional free childcare should the party come to power, the Conservatives plans to expand business rate relief, and the Green Party’s aversion to exports.

The debate also appeared to sway the opinion of the 130-plus small businesses and entrepreneurs in attendance. An initial opinion poll of the audience members showed that 37% of the audience planned to vote Conservative, 30% Labour, 23% undecided, 7% LibDem, 3% Green and 1% UKIP. In comparison, the exit poll saw the Conservatives take more of a lead with 45% of the audience planning to vote Conservative, 31% Labour, 10% undecided,7% LibDem, 5% Greens and 2% UKIP.

Exit poll resize

Read on to find what of each of the political parties is promising small businesses in the run up to the election…

On supporting small businesses

Matt Hancock, Conservatives: “We’re passionate about small business and it’s part of long term economic plan to support small business. I come from a small business background and […] believe that those that put in the most should receive the most back – support from small business is what we all want to see.”

Lorely Burt, LibDem: “I’m an entrepreneur and have worked in small businesses for several years. I understand the excitement and frustrations – you could say I am Mrs Small Business. What have we got to offer you? We’re in favour of encouraging manufacturing, we have a secretary of state who is a LibDem. We’re very keen to avoid regulation, our policy was one in, one out. We are the greenest of all the parties with the Green Bank, we understand that we need to grow our economy, we’ve shown ourselves to be supportive.”

Howard Allen, Green: “I’m a business spokesperson, I know something about running a business and ones that are successful. I’ve also worked for national corporations. Despite rumours, we are pro-business and we are particularly pro- small businesses and against corporates that suck the profits out.

“We’re the only party that is anti-austerity. Austerity has failed and was only meant to last for four years. Living standards have reduced in the last few years. We need to introduce a living wage so that people can spend money in small businesses. We want to get more people on benefits in work, we’re supporting reduced tuition fees.”

Toby Perkins: “I’ve ran three businesses and can assure you that that Labour will offer better regulations – a government that stands up for businesses having to deal with late payments. There will be fairness on taxes- we will maintain the corporation tax at the current rate to help businesses. We’re going to increase business support and support more exports.”

On business rates

Hancock: “It gets brought up with me continually, we need to turn around the system. Next month we’re increasing the rates relief for retail businesses from £1,000 to £1,500. When we came to office the plan was to end small business rates relief and we have maintained rates relief.”

Perkins: “We’re always going to have [the issue of] business rates, it’s an easy tax for government to take. We support the idea that there should be a fundamental review of business rates.”

Burt: “We would stop business rates completely and would have a land value tax instead – small businesses would be the winners.”

Allen: “It’s still a problem. For the long term we do need a land value tax. We have a large supermarket in Solihull which has sat on 10 acres of land for almost 20 years and never had to pay any business rates! It’s ridiculous.”

Hancock: “I must point out that [the other political parties] are not thinking about the wider economy – there needs to be a plan to manage the long term economy.”

On taxes

Perkins: “We have no plans to increase taxes (should we come into power).”

Allen: “We would not increase taxes.”

Burt: “Businesses are the lifeblood of the economy – we would not increase taxes.”

Hancock: “There are no plans to raise taxes.”

On raising the VAT threshold

Perkins: “Any milestone on VAT will create a disincentive – we do recognise there is an issue.”

Burt:“Whatever you have as the threshold it will stop businesses growing over that and we don’t we do to that. We have got the highest VAT threshold in the whole of Europe.”

On exports

Hancock: [The 2020 £1bn exports goal] is an ambition. The importance of exports cannot be understated. We’ve been driving exports. It has been more difficult than we hoped. People who have a website, especially e-commerce find that they are exporting without even realising. We’re not there yet [with exports].”

Allen: “There is a balance of trade export issue – we need to stop feeling guilty about exports and imports. Think about it: Do we have an exports problem?! Do we have an imports problem? We need to look at the opportunities here first.”

On the EU referendum

Hancock: “We want reform in Europe that will see growth. A referendum will resolve uncertainty. The UK’s relationship with Europe isn’t a happy one. I wasn’t even born when there was the last referendum and that wasn’t even a referendum on the EU but a referendum on the trade block.”

Burt: “No [we don’t need a referendum].The whole issue of Europe is causing uncertainty. Britain is a platform of inward investment and we’ve got a skilled workforce and that’s [thanks to] part of being in the EU.”

On childcare issues for business owners

Burt: “We’ve done good things, we have 15 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds and we would extend that to two year olds as well. I don’t think any of the parties would want to put a cap on the cost of childcare because it’s a free market – it encourages competition.”

Perkins: “We would have 25 hours free childcare for three to four year olds and make school hours 8-6pm for primary schools.”

On the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)

Hancock: “We’re not looking at making any changes.”

Perkins: “It’s a really useful initiative but it’s underutilised. There needs to be a better level of finance – it’s key to growth.”

Hancock: “EIS is an important powerful tool for businesses.”

Startups.co.uk would love to hear your views. What policies do you want to see and which party ‘gets’ small business? Get in touch at hello@startups.co.uk or on Twitter @startupstowers

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