Can I have a business energy contract if I work from home?
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It is 5am and still dark as Gregg Harrison is unlocking his premises ready to start baking. The 35-year-old has been running his catering and branded foods business for almost two years.
One week is always different from the last. He can be working offsite, baking cakes, making jams and chutneys or traveling to attract more sales.
But what doesn’t vary is the long hours, at least 12 a day, he puts in to the business. And with the 2015 election campaign under way, there’s no shortage of politicians emphasising how much small businesses like Harrison’s– in fact nearly 5 million of them – are the lifeblood of Britain’s economy.
Harrison, who runs The Welshman’s Lunch in South Wales, knows the problems that small businesses face and is sceptical that politicians have the solutions.
“I seem to spend half my time chasing up people who haven’t paid me, I still have one bill outstanding from last July,” he says.
“Access to funding is another big bugbear because it seems I don’t tick any of the bureaucratic boxes.
“I’m too old for any of the help offered to young people, usually 18-24, I’m too young for help offered to older people usually over 50, I don’t have a degree so can’t access funding open to graduates. My business isn’t technical or exporting so I don’t qualify for help there either.”
So, as polling cards drop through letter-boxes now we’re one month from election day, what are our politicians offering beyond the rhetoric?
While we wait for the bulk of the parties to publish their full manifestos, recent speeches and public statements have given some clues to their thinking.
The Conservatives stand by their record claiming that by backing small businesses and enterprise, they helped to create 1.9 million new jobs.
The coalition government cut National Insurance, saving businesses up to £2,000, and scrapped the ‘jobs tax’ altogether for under 21s in the recent Budget.
Cuts in corporation tax helped companies to invest while getting rid of unnecessary red tape freed up businesses to concentrate on expansion.
Chancellor George Osborne announced an early review of the controversial business rates, including an extension of the Small Business Rate relief to take the edge off small firms.
Labour’s Ed Miliband released a 22-page business manifesto which promises to cut and freeze business rates for more than 1.5 million small business properties, create an independent National Infrastructure Commission and a British Investment Bank with a network of regional banks to boost competition on the High Street.
Miliband promised “a revolution in vocational education” to ensure all young people study English and maths to 18, with a guaranteed apprenticeship for those that get the grades.
Labour would legislate for mandatory reporting by large companies of late payment of suppliers, worth a staggering £40bn in the economy. ‘Pay to Stay’ terms to remain as a supplier would be outlawed.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg backs the coalition record. But he warned businesses need stability ‘not the shock of a lurch to the left or right – away from the sensible, balanced approach that’s taking us to where we need to be for jobs and growth’.
Local leaders should continue to be given the control to shape their economic future through City Deals, Clegg said. Lib Dems would build on the Regional Growth Fund which would deliver over half a million jobs and £16 billion of private investment to businesses.
“We’ll ensure our tax system stays competitive, making SMEs the priority for any business tax cuts.”
There would also be help for SMEs to win £15bn of central government contracts reserved for smaller businesses, he said.
Labour has promised to end the “epidemic” of zero-hours contracts, handing a legal right to employees to a regular contract after 12 weeks of working regular hours.
The Conservatives claim this is a threat to jobs, while Lib Dems would ban exclusivity clauses which prevent people looking for additional work to boost their income.
UKIP’s five main pledges include no tax on the minimum wage. The spread of zero hour contracts ‘is yet another symptom of the over-supply of labour for working class jobs because of open door immigration from the EU’, according to UKIP Economics Spokesman Patrick O’Flynn.
But with only four short weeks to go to polling day, the devil is always going to be in the detail.
Harrison adds: “Various organisations are there to help new or small businesses. The problem is that most of these seem to be private companies funded by government and it seems to me to be a box ticking exercise as they get funded per small business they help.
“I will be following the debates on TV. Everybody that can, should vote, even if you just deface the ballot at least it shows you have an opinion.”
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