Ahead of the general election on May 7, politicians from the UK’s three main political parties outlined their plans for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) annual conference in Birmingham.
The issue of business rates headed the agenda, followed by
and workplace pensions. Chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, said that if the Conservatives retained power in May the recent experiment that has seen Greater Manchester keep 100% of the additional growth in local business rates could be rolled out across the UK.
Responding to questions, Osborne praised SMEs for helping to reduce the UK unemployment rate by creating new jobs and said that the north of England is currently growing faster than the south, helped by extra investment in the drive for a “northern powerhouse”.
Osborne also pledged that the government’s
‘Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill’
, which is completing its passage through parliament, will name-and-shame firms guilty of late payments.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, which shares power in the UK’s ruling coalition government, responded to the owner of a PR business in London, who complained of a 300% rise in business rates over in the past three years.
Clegg agreed that the problem needed to be addressed. “One of the major anachronisms in our tax system is the business rates system, it’s taxing you in way that is irrational – the business rates review needs to be cross-party,” he said.
Clegg also pledged that SMEs will be made the priority for any business tax cuts and said that the Liberal Democrats want a third of government contracts to go to SMEs. His party also aims to double the number of employers with apprentices.
Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour party, promised to create a British investment bank to provide lending to SMEs across the country if he gains power in May.
“When it comes to cutting taxes for businesses, we will put small businesses first in line,” he added. “If we win the election we will cut business rates, then freeze them again next year.”
Milband noted that 44% of SMEs had a problem with late payments last year, hampering their ability to invest and grow. “We will bring in requirements for large firms to report on their actions on late payments,” he told the audience. “We will legislate to end ‘supply chain bullying’ if it is necessary to do so.”
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