Opinion

Will UKIP do anything to help small businesses?

5 min read

03 November 2014

UKIP’s provided the most exciting political story of the last few years. Its meteoric rise in popularity led to winning the European Union election and electing its first MP, and there’s a slim change the party could help form a coalition next year; but what do we know about its plans for businesses? Will it do anything to boost entrepreneurialism and help SMEs?

Its recently released local manifesto makes two key pledges which mention business, promising to: “Reduce tax and business costs to stimulate the local economy. Make it easier for smaller and local businesses to tender for local authority contracts”; and “Upgrade public transport, especially maintaining and reinstating rural bus routes that many communities depend on and which feed town-centre businesses and markets.”

Both make sense on a local level and deal with issues of concern for SME owners, particularly those in smaller communities, but the policy document lacks detail.

UKIP’s new European manifesto ups the rhetoric and attacks the EU regulation for limiting the ability of SMEs to compete in its opening paragraphs.

“A few big businessmen are regularly wheeled out to say they want to stay in; but when the EU is geared to help big businesses and prevent small ones from challenging them, that’s not surprising. It’s our 4.8m smaller businesses that suffer from the burden of EU laws and regulations.” But it again fails to flesh out how this would work in practice.

A complete general election manifesto has not yet been released, leaving us to take clues from its “straight talking” 2010 platform (albeit this document has been criticised by party leaders for its lack of professionalism).

The manifesto mentions businesses ten times and highlights small businesses’ role in the economy – “UKIP knows that small and medium-sized companies are the lifeblood of the UK economy and [are] essential to new job creation, but are often overburdened by the State”. A good start for some practical policy measures…

However, predictably policy tends to be focused on the role of EU regulation and red tape, rather than providing more practical measures and demonstrating an understanding of the issues facing small businesses.

It cites cost saving analysis from Open Europe, which claims EU regulation will cost businesses £356bn by 2018 – “we simply cannot afford to remain in the EU” – and notes 72 per cent of business regulations are made in Brussels. And it promises to remove any green measure that hinders businesses, including carbon cap schemes, emissions trading, landfill taxes and renewable subsidies.

In addition, it states plans to make public sector cuts to reduce tax on businesses, plans to ensure 50 per cent of business rate is paid directly to local councils and to stop charging business rates on empty properties.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage hasn’t had much more to say on the subject and the party’s small business spokesman, MEP Amjad Bashir, limits his arguments to the same tried and tested attacks on EU regulation. Lamenting employment policies which make it hard to hire staff and calling for massive cuts in taxation and regulation to help grow the economy: “As a businessman I have seen so many roads blocked to expansion because of the rules and regulations,” he says on his personal website.

Having scoured the party’s promotional material and speeches I’m left with the feeling that the party’s got very little to say on business issues beyond bemoaning EU regulation. There’s no doubt that less red tape is a good thing, but there needs to be detail and clarity in its policies for businesses.

The words “entrepreneurs” and “start-ups”, for instance, aren’t mentioned anywhere on the UKIP website or in the policy documents mentioned here.

The party has laid out a small number of common sense initiatives for businesses that will work on a local level, but it lacks a central argument about what it would do for businesses beyond removing red tape created by the EU. And even that begs questions for our exporters, who face having to comply with many of them anyway if they want to export to the EU and face an exit which could bring tougher trade terms.

If the party is truly going to cause a “political earthquake” it would be great to see it take on the established parties’ poor performance when it comes to helping small and medium businesses succeed, rather than limiting themselves to endlessly banging the anti-EU drum.

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