Stephen Timms hosted a roundtable discussion on how the Labour Party can create and win the support of the next generation of entrepreneurs.The event was chaired by Martin Howe of the Executive Committee for SME 4 Labour with keynote speakers Stephen Timms MP for East Ham and Bill Esterson MP for Sefton Central at Portcullis House.
Stephen Timms MP began by applauding the work of SME 4 Labour. He stated that the current govt setup doesn’t seem to support SMEs in the way that it should, and that is a political opportunity for Labour. He argued that the tax system needs to reflect more and more the needs of people who set up businesses for themselves and that this was an agenda Labour needs to get right.
He said that because of Brexit the whole economy faces great uncertainty and that no one knows where we’ll be in a few years’ time. He added that the Brexit select committee paid its first visit to the Department for Exiting Europe today but that there is no sign of anyone in the department or the government with a plan, and expressed support for the High Court ruling because it gives parliament a say in where Brexit goes.
He added that Research commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses showed that in an 18-month period, 80% of people who have made the move out of this period have done so as a result of getting a job in a small business. He continued, explaining that Shoreditch and other areas present an interesting area of how small businesses have been created and this trend is expanding geographically through London.
He explained that the government has a target of 3m apprenticeship starts between 2015-2020. He said that this seems to be their only target – there’s no specification on their quality, how they contribute to the economy, and expressed worry that the government will do whatever it takes to get 3m, regardless of whether or not these apprenticeships are things that businesses need.
He added that there have been 2.4m apprenticeships in the previous 5 years – so it’s an achievable increase but there are still unclear objectives with where they are going.
In addition he explained that there is a new apprenticeship levy due from next April for companies with a pay bill higher than £3m a year, the government will contribute 0.5% of their paybill towards the cost of apprenticeships, estimated to raise £2.1b a year on apprenticeships and that this is very controversial amongst businesses who will be targeted. He added that the Confederation of British Industry is protesting it and says it may actually reduce apprenticeships.
Bill Esterson MP agreed that SMEs provide opportunities for criticism of government policy, and argued that on the topic of Brexit, business confidence is essential for success.
He said that the loss of long-term foreign investment into the country will cause increasing problems over time and added that the result with Nissan is vaunted, but that it is a success with one company in one part of the country and definitely is not a plan.
He argued that the target of 3m apprenticeships is dangerous and that a rush will mean that there will be a loss of quality. He also stated that projections suggest there will be a deficit of 0.5m jobs in intermediate and advanced-skilled areas including the construction sector.
He added that he would like to see something similar to the American model, and explained that in the US they have the Small Business Administration – which is ‘a driver to the success of the economy as a whole’ as it supports advice and mentoring with an extensive network of retired entrepreneurs which is broadly superior to what is offered through the New Enterprise Allowance. He explained that they have an approach to bringing clusters together across the country with all sorts of industries and sectors like Silicon Valley.
He explained that they particularly invest in supporting business startups in more deprived communities and encouraging women as entrepreneurs. He explained that Germany, Switzerland and America are all very strong on this whereas Britain is extremely lacking in supporting apprenticeships and has nothing like this at present and that moves towards this had been advocated in Labour’s 2015 manifesto.
Bill also expressed support for the creation of a Department of International Trade but added that the focus of policy, rather than corporation tax wrangling which only benefits the small clique of large businesses, needs instead to focus on small businesses in growing sectors such as a digital and similar sectors. He also argued that Labour needs to resist Liam Fox’s desire for a low-skilled, low-paid economy in “a race to the bottom”.
SME4labour organised a meeting in Islington between SME owners and Emily Thornberry MP. There were SME owners from various backgrounds who raised their concerns and other issues while also advocating for the Labour Party to become the natural home of small businesses, and that it should do more to engage with them. The key issues raised were lending to small business, immigration issues for the workforce, high rents, and business rates.
The most recent event held by SME 4 Labour was a fundraising dinner in support of Sadiq Khan, Labour candidate for London Mayor. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in a raffle and auction which included some excellent prizes.
The Mayoral elections could not have come at a more crucial time for businesses as the economy is suffering from uncertainty and international pressures. With London being such a cosmopolitan city, it was vital that a Mayor, who vows to ease the challenges faced by businesses (including growing competition), was elected. Rightly so, Sadiq Khan won the elections and has taken office in City Hall to fulfil the promises in his manifesto. We, at SME 4 Labour, look forward to a successful tenure making a better, fairer, more business friendly London.
November 2015 saw the first networking reception for SME 4 Labour which led to the widely anticipated official launch in Parliament the following January. Hosted by Bill Esterson MP (and Shadow Minister for small businesses), the event was well attended by 50 MPs and Councillors. with the queue reaching over 400 individuals. SMEs make up 50% of the national economy with a majority of them being Labour-leaning which only reinforces the need for SME 4 Labour.
The event started with an opening speech from the Co-founder of SME 4 Labour, Ibrahim Dogus, who highlighted what the group stands for. This was reinforced with a speech from the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn where he stated “the formation of this group, within the labour party, is a very important step forward” and that SMEs “need to have equal access to all the benefits of the welfare state and business system. Angela Eagle MP, expressed that a healthy relationship between the Labour Party and SMEs is essential because they “craft our policies so that we can build a prosperous economy for the 21st Century”.
SME 4 Labour along with Stephen Kinnock MP held a discussion with Rt Hon Lord Hain about life in British politics and the success of Lord Hain’s book Back to the Future of Socialism. The book highlights what the future holds for the Labour Party and its members – putting forward a profound alternative to the neo-liberal economic agenda. Lord Hain is best-known for being a prominent activist in the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa during the 1970s and for his later role in the Northern Ireland peace process. Having served the Labour Party for 50 years and been a cabinet member under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, ord Hain is a true advocate for carrying through the policies brought in by the Labour Party.
September 2015 saw the start of SME 4 Labour with the organisation’s hosting Yvette Cooper’s final phase of her Labour leadership campaign. MPs, volunteers and business owning non-party members gathered in North London for a fundraising dinner to show their support. The fundraising dinner enabled Yvette to speak out on pressing matters, such as the refugee crisis where she criticised the then Prime Minister David Cameron for his lack of action on taking a ‘fair share’ of refugees. Yvette Cooper held a strong campaign and the attendees of the event clearly proved this as the audience consisted of 800 individuals. However, she was faced with tougher competition and ultimately lost out to Jeremy Corbyn after a three-month-long leadership race.
SME4Labour has actively engaged with CLP’s and groups supporting the Labour cause throughout the year. As part of our work to support our friends from across the country, we have supported a fundraising dinner with Carwyn Jones. Tim Roache of GMB and many other colleagues were also present at the dinner.