Three weeks into the job, does Corbyn mean business?

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While the cloud of global recession has been slow to lift from the UK, there has been one silver lining – it has demonstrated the vital importance of SMEs to the UK economy. 

Recognising this, MPs from across the political spectrum have been vocal in their praise of small and midmarket businesses and their role in our recovery.

While Labour ideology naturally aligns Jeremy Corbyn with small business, the prevailing positive sentiment among the public towards SMEs makes Corbyn’s decision to champion this group an even savvier one.

Even before his election as Leader of the Opposition, Corbyn had launched his ‘Better Business’ platform, outlining policies intended to, “stand up for small businesses, independent entrepreneurs, and the growing number of enterprises that want to co-operate and innovate for the public good.”

Indeed, on the surface, many of Corbyn’s policies seem sensible. He calls for a rate freeze for small businesses at a time when research from the Forum of Private Business indicates that 86 per cent have experienced increased business costs over the last 12 months. He also petitions for improved investment in our digital and transport infrastructures – something that will benefits British business as a whole.

Division inside the ranks

Nevertheless, some of Corbyn’s policies – and appointments to his shadow cabinet – have been met with a more divided response. His choice of John McDonnell, widely regarded as one of the most controversial MPs in the Labour party, as shadow chancellor has raised numerous eyebrows.

While media debate the impact of McDonnell’s appointment on business big and small, it’s the inter-party wrangling induced by this and other controversial moves that really threatens to de-rail Corbyn’s courtship of SMEs. We all know that most politicians are gifted speakers and promise-makers, but it is action – not distraction – that small businesses require.

David Cameron has already made moves to improve the business landscape for UK SMEs – particularly in terms of their access to finance. He has led in the establishment of the new British Business Bank for example, and focused on furthering referral legislation designed to broaden knowledge and access to alternative finance. Nevertheless, both these measures have received criticism for the length of time they are taking to materialise and concerns over how they may be administered.

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If Corbyn wants to become the champion for UK small businesses, he needs to make a compelling argument for the post. This will depend on his creation of genuinely viable policies, and a clear outline of how he aims to achieve his objectives. Large corporations are easy targets, but how will cutting subsidies to these work to “level the playing field” for SMEs?

It remains to be seen whether this can be achieved without damaging UK plc as a whole. Nevertheless, I’d advise him – and more specifically Angela Eagle, Labour’s new spokesperson for business, innovation and skills – to quickly provide clarity on their policies. After all, they’re trying to win round a community that’s all too familiar with the importance of creating a faultless business plan and moving quickly.

Ben Cohen is a manager at UK Bond Network.

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