New government ‘too risky’, businesses warn

Minding our own business: Party leaders campaign for support from companies around the UK.

Representatives from some 5,000 companies have signed a letter in support of David Cameron and George Osborne. But are the interests of business identical to those of the country at large?

Standing before a cheering crowd of small business owners in a shirtsleeves and tie, David Cameron, strikes an energetic note. Talking to entrepreneurs ‘pumps me up’, he says: they are the ‘magic ingredient’ in the British economy.

The speech comes on the same day that the Conservative Party launches its small business manifesto which aims to see 600,000 new firms each year until 2020. Meanwhile, the front page of the Daily Telegraph is devoted to an open letter signed by representatives from 5,000 small businesses.

The letter says that its signatories would like to give the Tories a chance to ‘finish what they have started’. The Conservative-led government has been ‘genuinely committed’ to businesses by lowering taxes, cutting ‘red tape’, tackling the deficit and encouraging banks to lend. This, it says, has helped small businesses to create ‘1,000 jobs a day day since 2010’. Any change now would be ‘far too risky’.

Star of TV’s The Apprentice and small business ambassador for the Conservative party, Baroness Karren Brady, is the organiser behind the letter, which is not the first of its kind to be published during this campaign. On April 1, 103 CEOs signed a letter — also published in the Telegraph — condemning Labour’s plan for the economy.

Currently, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) make up 99% of the UK’s businesses, and count for almost half of the jobs in the private sector. They have a combined turnover of over £1.3tr. So it is easy to see why politicians would seek their support: SMEs make a huge contribution to the UK economy, with millions of people depending on them for their jobs.

It is not only the Tories who are desperate to portray themselves as friends of enterprise. Earlier in the campaign, Labour tried to gain business support by warning of the instability which they say would be caused an EU referendum.

Business as usual?

The signatories of this letter believe that their needs are in harmony with those of the public and the country as a whole. Small business owners are inventive, dedicated people whose hard work and dynamism provides the engine of the UK economy. Any government that ignores the advice of business puts the welfare of every citizen in peril.

That attitude is completely undemocratic, argue critics. Business leaders may well do admirable and vital work, but they are also looking out for their own interests: lower taxes and fewer employment rights might well be good for the bosses but terrible for their workers. When it comes to deciding how the economy is run, everybody’s voice should be heard equally — the opinions of a company director are no more important than those of their lowliest employee.

You Decide

  1. If you could vote, would you be influenced by what company bosses wanted? And who else might be able to swing your vote?
  2. ‘Whatever’s good for business is good for Britain.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. It is often said that young people are the key to the future. Write a letter to a newspaper in which you use this idea to persuade people to vote for your own party of choice.
  2. Imagine you are setting up your own small company. Choose an idea and write a short business plan.

Some People Say...

“The biggest risk to British business is the threat of an EU exit.”

The Labour Party

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m still in school. Why should I care what businesses think?
Like it or not, the strength of the economy affects all of our lives. Healthy businesses mean more tax revenue, which the government can spend on services like health and education. And of course, strong businesses also provide more jobs.
Can I start my own business one day?
Yes, although it’s not easy. First you’ll have to have a good idea for an attractive or useful product or service. Then the real work begins: testing your idea, finding your market, calculating whether it is commercially viable. And that’s all before you apply for funding from banks or government schemes. It takes commitment and independence, but it can be enormously rewarding — and even if you fail, employers will be impressed that you had the guts to try.

Word Watch

Representatives from 5,000 small businesses
The business leaders are based in all areas of the UK. However, the Tories have been accused of orchestrating the letter, as it was available to sign on their member website. Additionally, the Guardian pointed out that ‘at least 45’ names on the letter were duplicates, and that there was one Conservative councillor (who signed for two entities) and one Conservative Club among the signatories.
Baroness Karren Brady
Vice-chairman of West Ham FC and Alan Sugar’s right-hand woman, Karren Brady is one of the UK’s best-known businesswomen. In 2013 she was awarded a CBE for services to entrepreneurship and women in business. She is a Conservative peer, becoming a member of the House of Lords in 2014.
Small and medium enterprises
Any business with fewer than 250 employees is classed as an SME.
EU referendum
The Conservatives have pledged that they will have a referendum on continued membership of the EU if they remain in power, whereas the Labour party has said it will only hold one if further powers are transferred to Brussels.