Friday 27 September 2013

Party conference buzzes with small business debate

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.

Philip Ross
Labour Small Business Forum and LFIG
The LFIG fringe event was kindly sponsored by the Process and Packaging Machinery Association

Wednesday 25 September 2013

LFIG \ LSBF Fringe event packed out

Last night's fringe event with LFIG on small business was packed out. We need a bigger room next year.

Many thanks to the PPMA for sponsoring the event

Some of the speakers had to leave early because of the conference dinner so we rolled Mike Cherry, National Policy Chairman from the FSB and Simon McVicker onto the panel as it discussed issues ranging from freelancing to late payments.

Some pictures below and further report to follow...

Monday 16 September 2013

Top Labour fringe on small business - Tuesday 24th September

Once again the LSBF and LFIG are leading the way at the Labour conference with a major fringe event promoting small business. This year Toby Perkins MP, small business minister speaks again as well as Bill Thomas chairman of Labour's small business task force along with Prof, Andrew Burke from Cranfield University who will speak about the importance of freelancers.

An Enterprising Nation—How Small Firms, Freelancers and Self-Employed can Flourish Under Labour

Time: 18:30-20:00 (Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel—Surrey Suite 1), Tuesday 24th September 2013

Twitter: #EnterpriseNation


Philip Ross (Labour Small Business Forum – Chair)

Toby Perkins MP (Shadow Minister for Small Busiensses)

Victoria Groulef (Labour PPC for Reading West)

Bill Thomas (Chairman of Labour's small business task force)

Andrew Burke (Labour Small Business Taskforce)

- See more at:

Monday 18 March 2013

Becoming the party of small business

Is Labour becoming the party of and for small business? It certainly seemed like it last Monday when I joined with a few hundred others who were members of Labour Entrepreneurial and Small Business network at Brixton Market to celebrate the release of the report from Labour’s independent task force on small business. What is interesting is the growing momentum behind such events as they seem to be getting larger and larger and have more and more of a buzz each time. 

There is a real meeting of minds because Labour is beginning really to get and understand the small business economy and its 88 page report - for the Policy Review - included over 100 recommendations is proof of that. But it is not the only evidence, the other interesting thing is that business realises that Labour understands what it is about because Labour’s comments about wealth and enterprise are not simply old-rhetoric but are based on real understanding. For instance Chuka has recently said that he has banned his team from using the phrase ‘SME’, because he considers it to be too broad a definition of small firms, encompassing as it does the self employed right up to the 250 person enterprise. Labour it seems is not proposing a one size fits all model for business but a truly tailored approach. 

To appreciate why this is you simply need to look at Labour’s business team. It is headed by Chukka Umunna whose father came to this country and established his own small firm. From what Chuka says and does it is clear that this isn’t simply another brief but it is in his blood. Alongside him is Toby Perkins the MP for Chesterfield. Toby ran his own small business before entering Parliament so when he goes around talking to small firms around the country he understands what it is like to raise finance and to employ people and the burden of regulation. In the Lords they have Parry Mitchell who as a serial entrepreneur founded three companies all of which grew to be market leaders. Backing them there seems to be a brilliant team of advisors and as the cold evening in  Brixton showed party members and other are confident to show their colours as small business people for and in the Labour Party. As for the Task Force report it was originally headed by the brilliant Nigel Dougherty who spearheaded process forward but suffered a sad and untimely death last year. It was picked up by Bill Thomas formerly of HP who has expertly brought together business representatives, academics and entrepreneur and put together the report.

Another pointer to this great understanding is that the report wasn’t launched at some fancy offices in Canary Wharf or at some bank, but in Brixton Market. Labour realises that the beating heart of enterprise in our country isn’t in board rooms of venture capitalists but with the self-employed; the white van man, the freelancer; the market firm and the small enterprise. While many in the Labour Party still cling to the belief that the next election is going to fought on a platform on health and education the truth is different. The battle field is going to be growth and prosperity and is going to be fought around how that can be delivered. Labour is positioning itself clearly to say that it will be delivered through small business and that their values are one and same as ours. Previously Labour governments worked hard to help small business but there was always a feeling that they were at arms lengths from small business. But from what I saw and heard on Monday and saw in the report, Labour had moved from nodding terms with small business to a proper handshake and hopefully onwards to a full embrace. The idea that Labour should be the party of and for small business, isn’t rhetoric and it has moved beyond simply aspiration and is on course to become a tangible reality.

Philip Ross is a member of LFIG and the founder of the Labour Small Business Forum which wants to build a network of Labour members in small business and identify those in every constituency. To get involved contact Philip at  #philiprosslgc
A second article on the Task Force Report will be published later this week