Jonathan Reynolds’ speech unveiling Labour’s Plan for Small Business
Thank you, Denise. It is wonderful to be able to launch Labour’s Plan for Small Business here with the Essex Chamber of Commerce in Basildon.
In this role I have always been blown away by the diversity and expertise of the Chambers. The BCC team as well as the individual Chambers have been so generous with their time, sharing your experiences and being candid where you feel policies have to change, or do better.
I’m so grateful as well to The Finishing Line for hosting us today, and having now met Denise, it’s easy to see why the BCC directed us here to Essex – she certainly gets things done and is clearly an integral force in the community here.
What I want to talk to you about today is Labour’s plans to give small businesses the economic environment they need to thrive.
The opportunities I think there are for small businesses in our agenda, and crucially how we can work together to put a future Labour Government in the best possible place to deliver for business. That’s why I am so delighted today to be launching not just Labour’s Plan for Small Business but the first of a series of events like this, getting out and speaking to small businesses.
Making sure this is a two-way conversation, governments can’t make your business successful, you know that. It’s your hard work, it’s your vision and graft that drives your success. But governments can, as we have seen too often over the last 13 years, make life more difficult and it can, when it gets it right, provide you with the platform you need to succeed.
I know that running your own business is hard at the best of times putting in the extra hours, taking on the responsibility of paying other people’s salaries is a significant commitment, and one I respect very much.
I know it has not been an easy time to run a business especially during the pandemic. But the grit, determination and vision that business owners have shown to take an idea, or a product and make it real and then keep the show on the road, no matter what has been thrown at you is incredible.
Many founders have told me about sleepless nights over the last few years and I know all the uncertainty and upheaval has taken its toll on you as well as your businesses.
So, I want to take the opportunity to say thank for keeping the doors open and jobs in our communities it is both noticed and appreciated, and it is my absolute conviction, that the major economic issues before us –
low investment, poor productivity, and low growth – can only be fixed with a better relationship between government and the private sector.
That is why Labour is committed to backing British business. I see my role as to listen, to engage, to communicate our plans clearly, and to try and solve problems – rather than cause them.
In the two years I have been doing this role I think the best people to tell me what business needs are business themselves, that’s why I have been listening to the voice of small business. Wherever I am in the country, businesses tell me, what they want from government is stability, certainty and ambition and we just haven’t had much of that.
Aside from the 4 Business Secretaries we have had while I have shadowed this role, we have had 23 changes to corporation tax or 5 different consultations on late payments this Parliament. We’ve seen a push to go green, with all the investments that follow that and then just a few months ago the Prime Minister decided to cull targets putting those investments at risk the reality is this uncertainty has made it harder to do business.
How can business plan when regulations constantly chop and change when you don’t know what paperwork you will need to export.
Or when you have no confidence in what tax environment you will be looking at in two years’ time. Many of you have told me it’s not having to deal with a change of Government policy from election to election that is causing the anxiety. It’s the change in Government policy month to month that’s hurting you. Labour will put a stop to that.
With Labour you will have policy clarity and certainty that works in investment cycles – not newspaper cycles. That’s what our Industrial Policy will deliver: stability, and certainty.
The industrial strategy council will be a permanent and independent institution in our public life – and it will have specific representation for small business on it. Clear, transparent, open frameworks there for all to see so you know what the priorities of the Government are.
We’ll be ambitious about the role small business can place in our industrial policy. So, this plan is about taking a whole government approach to provide the total business environment you need to grow.
First, we want to reform business rates so that they reward expansion rather than disincentivising it. And making rates much more market responsive so they react to real world conditions not spreadsheets in Whitehall.
I’m pleased the Chancellor has announced another extension of rates support but after years of short-term policies, it is surely time for longer vision and full-scale reform. And we know we need to boost skills so that you can get the talent you need to expand and create jobs and opportunities in every part of the UK.
We’ll do that through new technical excellence colleges, that work with local industries and FE institutions to match the skills need of an area. I know that the Essex Chamber led the way in writing the Local Skills Improvement Plan here. Surely those plans should be central in ensuring you have the training courses provided locally to create the talent pipeline you need.
I know access to finance is a huge barrier. So, we will improve access to patient capital and work with the British Business Bank to make sure Britain’s financial markets are working as they should for entrepreneurs, and we know we need to go further on tackling one of the biggest scourges to small business: late payments.
Again, I’m pleased to hear the Chancellor acknowledge this last week, but Labour’s plans would go further, faster with new legislation to ensure all large companies, not just government contractors, will have to report on their payment practices and demonstrate they are prompt payers.
And we also want to make sure you’ve got access to the customers you need. Too many of our high streets have become a symbol of the decline many areas have felt over the last decade. Labour will breathe new life back into our high streets giving councils power to transform empty premises and making shoppers and shop workers feel safe again with dedicated police patrols in every town centre.
And we know that Government itself ought to be a better customer to small business Labour will ensure a fairer shot at public tendering for small business.
By guaranteeing at least one SME is shortlisted for every appropriate contract and we will look to boost your customer base further afield as well. I’m proud to have launched our new export taskforce with the FSB to bring in the practical changes needed to boost exports from small firms.
Because under Labour ensuring businesses can trade in new markets will be just as important as securing market access in the first place. And finally, Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan will bring opportunities to a wide range of firms not just those in the energy sector. Our plans for cheaper, more secure energy will benefit firms of all sizes over the long-term by lowering one of the highest costs many firms now face – energy bills.
Never again must we be so exposed to volatile fossil fuel prices as we were after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. And by doing that, we will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and opportunities for small firms in insulation and energy efficiency measures.
And we will expend political capital. To get Britain building again. With new homes to boost local economies and ensure those who work with you can afford a decent place to live. This is the whole government approach we want to take to get this right. And we’ll keep talking to you to make it as comprehensive a plan as it can possibly be.
We all know this country needs a change and we cannot deliver that change without you small business really is the beating heart of our economy and when our high streets are struggling.
When it’s becoming harder and harder to expand your business or founders feel they need to walk away from the business they have built from scratch the effects can be felt right across our economy.
Labour’s commitment to small business isn’t skin deep. It’s fundamental to the economy we want to build.
An economy where visionaries can take risks and bring the innovation we need. Where the shops, services and goods you want are in the community you live. Where the people who put in the work can get on, building successful businesses in a secure and resilient economy.
I believe small business can be at the heart of rebuilding Britain. I sincerely hope we can work together in the months ahead. Because with your vision, energy, and determination.
We can turn the last decade of poor economic performance around. And I’m delighted to start that conversation with you here today.
To read Labour’s Plan For Small Business – click here.