Opinion

Why politicians should cast their vote for small businesses

6 min read

19 November 2019

As each main party prepare to launch their manifesto this week, voters wait for the various lists of promises to make their lives better and small businesses are no exception to this.

There will be no shortage of goodwill pledges to reduce business rates and taxes from the main parties, but while these are important, they are part of complex age-old structures that need a fundamental rethink and do not get to the heart of why small businesses exist.

How to ‘appeal’ to small businesses

Too often these types of policy ideas lead on a pessimistic message that small businesses often fail to engage with. Small businesses are not a niche market that can simply be appeased by fiscal reassurance.

They are a 5.8 million-strong group that makeup 99.3% of all UK businesses, around half of our entire private sector turnover (more than £2 trillion), and almost 17 million employees.

Politicians talk about the role of the UK in a future global economy – whether inside or outside the EU – this is simply not possible without the huge contribution of small businesses.

Small businesses need optimism

This has been touted as the ‘Brexit election’ and for those in the Westminster bubble, perhaps it is. But for three out of every five UK employees, this election needs to be about hope.

A recognition of their phenomenal work rather than merely a wringing of hands about the problems they face.

On 13 December, small businesses will carry on as normal, just as they carried on as normal on 30 March, 13 April, 1 November, and will do again at the end of January.

At one time, preparing for Brexit was one of the main concerns of small businesses; three extensions and a general election later, they cannot base their operations around an unfixed and unknown future.

In lieu of any certainty, what politicians need to provide on the campaign trail is some optimism and a commitment to helping small businesses flourish.

No more ‘death of the high street’ – please

With Small Business Saturday set to take place for the seventh consecutive year just five days before Britain heads to the polls, candidates up and down the country must deliver the message that small businesses in their constituencies want to hear: one of confidence and ambition rather than doom and gloom; not focused on the “death of the high street”, but the contribution of its residents.

It is true we have seen a number of high street staples closing their doors for the last time over the past couple of years, but this is generally down to shifts in consumer behaviour.

Consumers want an ‘experience’

Research from Small Business Saturday principal supporter American Express found last year that consumer demand for experiential businesses– from coffee shops and salons, to escape rooms and cinemas – is set to rise over the next five years, as is the overall number of small businesses on the high street.

Thanks to innovative founders with an understanding of these market trends, as well as the continued growth of online services, and community-minded health and wellbeing practices, the future is bright for small businesses. Small businesses are a ready-made support system for their communities.

At the ‘heart’ of communities

They provide jobs to local people who may be down on their luck, starting out in their careers, or returning to work following long absences; they volunteer their time in community organisations – on average, each small business commits more than one working day per month to community work; and they act as important relief on our welfare system, a social prescription for individuals who may be struggling.

Just look at Frome in Somerset, where the ‘Compassionate Frome’ project to combat loneliness in the town, set up in 2013 as part of a strategic partnership between local government, businesses and entrepreneurial GPs, saw hospital admissions reduced by 30% over three years.

Let’s upscale small business confidence

Quite simply, the small business conversation goes way beyond the high street. The Federation of Small Businesses’ confidence index has put small business confidence in negative territory for an unprecedented fifth consecutive quarter; yet despite the negative narrative, we have seen a net gain of more than 200,000 UK small businesses in the last year.

Imagine how high these numbers could climb when you add in a vote of confidence from their prospective leaders. Thousands of candidates will spend the next month campaigning in the UK’s 650 constituencies, with an average of almost 9,000 small businesses in each.

Don’t forget our small businesses

When campaigners talk up the positive message they have for their area, this should be directed at small businesses, saying: ‘we recognise you, we recognise the value you create here, and we want to give you the tools to succeed’.

This Christmas election, the best present our 5.8 million small business heroes could get is a set of manifestos that offer recognition of the incredible work they do across all areas of life, and a cross-party commitment to ensuring they continue to thrive.