24th April, 2015 No Comments
With only days to go before we witness the most unpredictable General Election in living memory, small business owners may see party leaders popping up in every corner of the country scrapping for the last vote wondering why they should watch it all unfold when the polls open. Yes, the top level party proposals will have a knock on effect from top to bottom of the economy, but businesses don’t get a vote. So why is it worth watching?
The national headlines may be taken up by a new quote each day from a FTSE chief executive or major party donor chipping a new quote into the chaos, but delve a little deeper and you will find significant policy changes that will impact the lifeblood of our economy: small business.
What surprises many people about the make up our economy is just how reliant national growth is on the health of small firms. Last year small businesses accounted for 48% of private sector employment – which is a startling 12 million people. So when we talk about employment or wages we shouldn’t be thinking about solely about the ‘big hitters’, but equally about the traders within a few miles radius of where you are sitting.
So, we know small business has underrated clout. But what does the General Election mean for this often overlooked crowd?
Don’t worry I’m not going to suggest scrolling through hundreds of pages of party policy before bed tonight. Here is a quick taster on some of the proposals by each party to help small businesses in the next five years:
Conservatives – Triple the number of start-up loans to businesses to 75,000, launch ‘Help to Grow’ to create £1bn in loans, and raise the target for SMEs’ share of central government procurement.
Labour – Strengthen rules on late payment, cut and then freeze business rates, and ban exploitative zero-hours contracts.
Liberal Democrats – Protecting the science budget to drive innovation, help businesses create a million more jobs by promoting apprenticeships, and continue to reform business tax to make sure it stays competitive and give priority for any cuts to SMEs.
Green Party – reduce employers’ National Insurance in the longer run to 8%, increase access to finance by investing £2bn in a network of community banks, and allowing local authorities to favour local procurement to help their local economy.
UKIP – make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to tender for public sector contracts, introduce a scheme whereby small businesses provide evidence of repeated late payments to HM Revenue and Customs, and repeal EU regulations and directives that stifle business growth.
So there you have it. It might not be every policy from every manifesto, but it should if you are a small business owner it should give you a reason to watch the drama unfold on the 7th of May and it might be enough to assure you that the pre election talk isn’t all centred on big business. Now it’s just the small matter of the result…
Written by Andy Grey, Policy Assistant, Business West
15th April, 2015 No Comments
All parties talk about the ‘benefits bill’ but fail (or refuse) to segment what the state pays and to who. Undoubtedly there are savings to be made from what is an enormous budget but it is important that we understand the underlying rationale for payments to each group of benefits recipients. I want to look at one specific area and I confess that it is a particular passion of mine.
In life there are a number of people who have been dealt a really poor hand at birth – those with severe learning and physical disabilities. As a compassionate and civilised society it is incumbent upon us to look after those who are unable to look after themselves without support. The current benefits system is unwieldy and not designed for individuals whose ‘condition’ will not change throughout their life.
The rate of employment for those with severe disabilities is risible and reflects badly on society for what little value we place on these individuals. The disappointing thing is that a solution is easy to achieve and would cost very little (if anything) to implement. Both government and business has a role to play. My suggestions on how to address what is a shameful way to treat individuals is:
– Where individuals have a severe learning or physical disability that will not change throughout their life, then as a society we should pay them a fixed amount of benefit which is assessed and only revisited every 5 years to determine if they should receive greater support due to deterioration. This sum may vary according to individual need but it should be set as a minimum at an amount equivalent to the average national salary.
– Once in receipt then there should be NO penalty if that individual finds some form of work – we should encourage them to earn extra funds.
– If a business creates a position for such an individual in receipt of these benefits then they are exempt from employers national insurance that would normally be paid.
Whilst it would cost a small amount of money to implement the impact would be enormous. A society that actively values those who face the largest challenges, a sense of worth in those individuals and a system that enables them to use their unique challenges without being penalised by the “system”. In turn firms should be encouraged to create positions specifically for this group which meet an individuals personal requirements.
I can hear the cries of outrage from some people already re the cost and ‘burden’ on business but let me tell you a story of the benefits that can be had …….
At Nwes we have recently recruited an individual with severe learning disabilities. This is a part time post but it is paid a full and proper wage. The individual would love to work more hours but the benefits system would penalise him for doing so – a real disincentive to work. At Nwes it is an extra ‘cost’ to the business but the pride seen in our staff members, because we are helping someone who needs a gentle hand up in life, has far outweighed the few extra pounds that we pay out. In turn the change in the individual has been a joy to behold and indeed his support worker says that the confidence that he has achieved working in his first ‘proper’ job has transformed his life.
If every business played their part and created extra roles for the most vulnerable and government withdrew the penalty for work then society would be improved and it would say much about us and our civilised approach to what is the right thing to do.
Cost = minimal, value = uncountable
Written by Kevin Horne, CEO, Nwes
26th January, 2015 No Comments
2015 has arrived and with it perhaps the longest election run in that we have seen in recent history.
We all know what the ‘big’ issues will be, and where party lines will be drawn. However, much less clear is where any of the parties stand on new and small businesses. We hear many warm words from government and opposition but do they really listen to what the business community and the country really needs?
Policies need to be developed which have longevity; can survive more than one parliament; and are based on such common sense that no colour of government would seek to make anything other than minor changes. Too often a new government means throwing out everything before it just to reinvent it at a later stage – often worse than it was before. We live in an interventionist capitalist society, and business does require some help in order to grow and provide more taxable income in order to deliver what the country requires in other areas.
As any good business person knows, ‘the best ideas are often the simplest’, and I make no apologies for a simple manifesto to keep our business base in robust health. Headlines only because of space, but feel free to ask about the “meat on the bones”!
These will require state intervention as the market does not cater here. Continue with Start Up Loans – a great idea and a low cost intervention that makes a real difference. Provide a nationwide start up programme such as Ready for Business, which is low cost and has proven to deliver great results. Let it be run by Enterprise Agencies who operate in the ‘not for profit distribution’ sector and provide high quality without taking profit unlike a few companies that we see in this sector! Provide mentors for the first two years of a new business (if required).
Early Stage Growth
Having nurtured the baby we need to teach it how to stand on its own. As such a growth programme which requires 50% payment by the client is a fair way to encourage a growth spurt. We have several schemes which have the basis on which to build, so simplify these and make available to all.
This is needed at certain stages in a business life such as exporting for the first time, or developing Intellectual Property. Have a high quality national core which reacts to client demand in a timely and effective way.
Medium Sized and Above
At this stage a business should be able to stand on its own and so no state intervention at all. No grants, incentives or bribes – let the market determine capability.
So … how do we pay for this? Savings on ‘inward investment’ grants and support to large business will go a long way. The savings on welfare bills through a more diversified business base and lower unemployment will also soon recoup any initial investment. Fines on banks should go directly to Start Up Loans.
I can hear the howls of anguish already from many vested interests but combine these measures with ensuring that companies pay the correct amounts of tax – yes we are talking about the multi-national villains – and the country has a bright future ahead of it. We can dream…….
Written by Kevin Horne, Chief Executive, Nwes