Politicians talk a lot about small businesses and entrepreneurs being the engine of economic growth, the “backbone” of the economy. But to secure this growth and all the benefits it brings in terms of jobs, thriving communities and much-needed tax revenue, the right sort of policies need to be in place.
The Parliamentary Snapshot 2015 report that we worked on with the Entrepreneurs Network aimed at achieving a better understanding of what MPs recognise and know about entrepreneurship.
Some of the findings were more expected than others. Some were frankly shocking. At the launch event we held, many of the findings of the report were reinforced by the real life experience of businesses and entrepreneurs in attendance.
Critically, the survey of 100 MPs conducted by YouGov, found that the level of knowledge about key government policies aimed at supporting entrepreneurs was minimal. It was agreed at the launch that the role of MPs is not only about making good policies and laws but also helping grow local businesses. This means being able to act as a conduit for growth opportunities, including government schemes. If their knowledge of such schemes is low, as the survey shows, then they are likely to fail local businesses and communities. So whilst effective initiatives already exist for start-ups, MPs need to help to promote them to businesses in their constituencies.
Some 55 per cent of those surveyed had never heard of the Catapult Centres, organisations set up to drive innovation and transform ideas into products and services to generate economic growth, and 48 per cent had not heard of Innovate UK, the UKs innovation agency.
Whilst the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) have proved hugely popular with businesses and many of our clients a view reinforced at the launch less than half of the MPs surveyed were aware of them. MPs knowledge of schemes such as the Angel CoFund and Patent Box were even lower. The same is true of Entrepreneurs Relief which our clients are actively engaging with, but MPs appear to know little about.
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Speaking at the launch of the report, Iain Wright MP, chair of the Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) select committee, outlined his belief in the need to make starting a business seem a realistic and achievable outcome for young people. This idea was well received.
Those attending the launch agreed with MPs that improving the skills of the domestic workforce is a priority policy area. There was a similar consensus in the room that there is a need for companies to have access to highly skilled migrants. Several people spoke critically about the problems caused by the governments immigration cap and how it is preventing companies from growing.
Several also raised the prospect of such policies damaging the UK and the position of London, as foreign entrepreneurs and businesses view the UK as “closed for business”. With many other cities vying for such talent, London could start to lose ground. Similarly, moves to send non-EU students back to their home countries after finishing their studies was seen as depriving the UK of entrepreneurs and growth opportunities.
The question of Britains future in the EU was raised and there was some concern that the survey had found that nearly 60 per cent of Conservative MPs saw positive benefits for entrepreneurial activity in withdrawing from the EU. The survey showed that, at least when it comes to entrepreneurship, Labour MPs are significantly more pro-Europe than Conservative MPs.
Iain Wright encouraged those at the launch to get involved in the work of his select committee citing their need for the ideas, experience and knowledge of entrepreneurs in their inquiries.
This is a key point. Government, policy-makers and MPs need to hear the views of entrepreneurs. That is one of the reasons why we are really pleased to have been involved in this work. Without a full and frank debate, we will not get the policies we need.
Entrepreneurs need to help MPs and MPs need to help entrepreneurs. It should be a partnership.