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The UK general election – who will be fighting the small business corner?


With the UK general election looming closer, business will be a key battleground for all parties. So which party cares the most about UK business?

Traditionally, the Conservatives have been seen as the party of business and, according to recent YouGov polling, lead the nation’s trust on the economy. Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced moves to triple the number of start-up loans by the end of the current parliament, and claims to have helped create a record-breaking 581,000 businesses in the last year alone.

In last year’s Autumn Statement the 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. The Federation of Small Businesses and the British Retail Consortium were particularly supportive of this review, which is widely known to hamper small enterprises. This came alongside a boost for the Funding for Lending Scheme and more money being poured into government-backed venture capital funds known as Enterprise Capital Funds.

However, the Tory backbenchers campaigning for an exit from the EU has some quarters concerned it could prove damaging to UK businesses looking to expand and work overseas, as this could potentially create a volatile marketplace.

Further to the right, Ukip are determined to exit Europe and the free trade agreements that go with it, yet they say this will support businesses in the long run by cutting bureaucracy. They also want to provide more free parking in town centres to boost local businesses, and extend the right to appeal against HMRC action.

On the left, Labour’s business focus on the cost of living crisis includes a pledge to increase the minimum wage, which may not go down well with smaller employers.

Business has been suspicious of Labour’s “responsible capitalism” and plans to raise the top rate of tax, is seen as an attempt to redistribute wealth away from business. But Labour leader Ed Miliband is gaining confidence by attempting to fill a gap in the market through the fact that his is the only party not to back a referendum on Europe.

Miliband was generally well received at the Confederation of British Industry conference, which could signal a new start to Labour-business relations that may not be harmed by the party’s close trade union links.

Having a Liberal Democrat Business Secretary and Chief Secretary to the Treasury has meant the Liberal Democrats appear to the public to be firmly within the business and economic loop of power. Like the Greens, the Lib Dems want to support community banks for small businesses and put cash into alternative funding options. While they firmly want to stay in the EU, they insist they are keen to support lifting regulations on small businesses to support them.

Positive outputs from general election questioned by small businesses

Many business owners are sceptical of most of the parties. Peter Jones, managing director for Logistics Learning Alliance, which runs courses in logistics and supply chain management, thinks none of the parties have made good on their promises at the last election.

“The nature of politics means that everything is too short term, we need a longer term vision to enable long-term planning,” he says. “Small business is still hampered by excessive bureaucracy.” He thinks he will probably vote Liberal Democrat.

The Greens also want to hike up the minimum wage, but have a number of small business specific policies which appear positive, such as introducing legislation on late payment and simplifying PAYE. However, they want to drive towards a 35-hour working week, which would be unpopular and unfeasible for many firms.

Noorin Khamisani runs sustainable and ethical fashion label Outsider and remains undecided on where her vote will go.

“The Green Party are making a lot of sense, but the Liberal Democrats have a better pedigree on business policies and it’s coupled with a strong environmental agenda,” she says.

Just how much of the business-creation and economic ‘upturn’ can be attributed to the Conservatives is uncertain, but their continued strength and confidence in business remains clear. While Labour might be creeping in on their ground, the Tories look set to receive the backing of business in 2015, no doubt a large part due to their extensive funding from larger firms.

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