Small business is growing big at conference both in the hall on Labour’s policy agenda and on the fringe. When Ed Miliband declared in his conference speech - ‘One Nation Labour – the party of small business’ it was less of an aspiration and more of an observation. Much credit is due to Labour’s excellent business team - including not just Chuka Umanna (who was raised in small business household) but Toby Perkins and Ian Murray who both ran their own firms before entering Parliament - and an energising team supporting them.
In March the ‘An Enterprising Nation’ report published by Labour’s Small Business Task Force recommended the introduction of regional banks to support small business but was also ‘fizzing’ with other new ideas and looking at the whole scale of small business innovation and activity from the large small firms down to importance of the freelance worker to the economy.
Ed’s conference speech noted that ‘For too long in this country, we’ve supported some businesses and not others. Most of the jobs of the future are going to be created in a large number of small businesses’. He explained that since Tories came to office they ‘cut taxes for large business by £6bn but raised taxes on small businesses’ and that they had short changed small firms and to put it right announced that Labour will cancel a 1% reduction in corporation tax that would have benefited a small number of large business and instead offer a cut in business rates which will benefit 1.5m small firms by at least £450 a year each.
If the policy announcements in the hall were demonstrating Labour is the party for small business, then the conference fringe showed that it is becoming the party of small business. Gone are the days when the only small business fringe events are held by external groups.
Progress hosted an excellent fringe event on Monday with Toby Perkins MP. The main point of the event with Shawbrook bank was about getting funding to small business. Shawbrook’s stated modus operandi is not to feed figures into a computer and get an answer but to make decisions based on getting to know a business. Beyond this there was discussion about the need for better mentoring between small business people, some of which has been lost since 2010.
On Tuesday LFIG and the Labour Small Business Forum’s event sponsored by the Process and Packaging Machinery Association realised that they needed a big room for small business after their fringe event became standing room only with 70+ and others unable to fit in. I chaired the meeting and we began with a large Labour panel - Toby Perkins MP, Bill Thomas - Chair of Labour’s Small Business Taskforce, Victoria Groulef - PPC Reading West, Debbie Abrahams MP chair of the all-party inquiry into late payments <link to progress article> and Prof. Andrew Burke - self-employment and freelancing - from Cranfield University, though independent was a member of Labour’s small business taskforce.
The discussion was wide ranging, also touching on the issues of funding and mentoring but also included the role and importance of freelancers in the economy to the issue of late payments and the need for small business to have a higher profile in a future - something that seems to be clearly on the cards.
Some panel members asked to leave early for another function so in demonstrating our understanding of flexible working we let them go and brought in as freelance replacements : Mike Cherry National Policy Chairman from the FSB and Simon McVicker of the PCG.
There is a real appetite for this discussion in the Labour party and the future candidates programme is also delivering small business candidates at the next general election - though a few more are needed. But the most rewarding part of the meetings was the realisation that the majority of the attendees and all the questions came from delegates and Labour party members. On the evidence of conference alone Labour is clearly becoming both the party of and for small business.
Labour Small Business Forum and LFIG
The LFIG fringe event was kindly sponsored by the Process and Packaging Machinery Association