General Election 2024: A guide to the political parties' pledges for small businesses

General Election 2024: A guide to the political parties' pledges for small businesses
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Wed 19th Jun 2024

Ahead of the UK General Election on 4 July, we're tracking what the political parties are promising for small businesses and the self-employed.

As new pledges are made, we are keeping this post updated.

Enterprise Nation’s small business manifesto for the next government is here.

Politicians from the Conservative Party, Labour Party and Liberal Democrats took part in the General Election small business debate. Watch a video and read a summary.

Conservative Party

The Conservatives launched the party's General Election manifesto on 11 June.

In a section on business, the document says:

"We will back the risk takers and entrepreneurs who help drive our economy. Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and we are making the UK the best place in the world to start or grow a business.

"We have great foundations: world-class talent, an internationally envied legal system and a business-friendly regulatory environment."

Policies of relevance to small businesses include:

  • Abolishing the main rate of National Insurance for the self-employed by the end of the next parliament.

  • Taking another 2p off National Insurance Contributions for employees which means the party will have cut NICs from 12% to 6% by 2027.

  • The party's long term ambition is to scrap National Insurance entirely "when financial conditions allow".

  • Commitment to not raise corporation tax and capital gains tax.

  • Fund 100,000 "high-quality apprenticeships" by "curbing the number of poor quality university degrees".

  • "Backing farmers" with "a legal target and additional investment for food security, and protecting our best agricultural land from solar farms".

  • 30 hours a week of free childcare from when a child is nine months old until they start school.

  • "Business rates support package worth £4.3bn over the next five years to support small businesses and the high street."

  • "Continue to ease the burden of business rates for high street, leisure and hospitality businesses" by increasing the multiplier on distribution warehouses that support online shopping over time.

  • Keep the VAT threshold under review and "explore options to smooth the cliff edge at £90,000". 

  • Improve access to finance for SMEs including through expanding Open Finance and by exploring the creation of Regional Mutual Banks.

  • To tackle late payment, promote digital invoicing, improving enforcement of the Prompt Payment Code, building on the creation of the Small Business Commissioner with "powers to tackle unfavourable payment practices".   

  • Ensure that Basel III capital requirements do not inhibit lending to SMEs.

  • Continuing programmes including the Invest in Women Task Force and the Lilac Review to encourage more female and disabled entrepreneurs.

  • Work with the British Business Bank and private sector fund managers to secure a £250m Invest In Women Fund to support female entrepreneurs. 

  • Work with public sector organisations including local authorities and NHS trusts and companies benefitting from government contracts to ensure that procurement opportunities are focused on SMEs in their local economies "where possible and practical".

  • "Long-term plan for towns" with 105 towns getting £20m each over 10 years to invest in local priorities such as "bringing life back to high streets, cutting crime, improving local transport and creating new jobs".

  • Extend the UK Shared Prosperity Fund for three years at the next spending review, before using this funding to support UKwide National Service.

  • Create more freeports and business rates retention zones.

  • Change planning laws to support places "to bring back local market days and regenerate defunct shopping centres".

  • Launch a seaside heritage fund to support enhancements to seaside heritage sites.

  • Launching a review of the nighttime economy in England, looking at how to reverse the decline in pubs and clubs and how to make our towns and cities great places to go out.

  • Take more companies "out of the scope of burdensome reporting requirements" by lifting the employee threshold allowing more companies to be considered medium-sized. This is expected to save small businesses at least one million hours of admin per year.  

  • Retain tax incentives for investors in small businesses including the Enterprise Investment Scheme, Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, and Venture Capital Trusts.

Enterprise Nation's reacton

Commenting on the Conservative Party's manifesto, Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones said:

"It's good to see the Conservative Party prioritising the strivers, the entrepreneurs, and the risk-takers, recognising that by starting a business or becoming self-employed, people are investing their own time and money into their enterprise. Many of their small business proposals align with our manifesto.

"Our Small Business Barometer has consistently found that small businesses want to see the tax burden lowered. So, the self-employed will warmly welcome the pledge to completely abolish the main rate of National Insurance Contributions. They will also appreciate that lowering the overall tax burden is the cornerstone of this manifesto.

However, small businesses will want to see firmer and more decisive action taken on issues affecting high streets, business rates, and a stronger push to eradicate the persistent problem of late payments. On all of these points, the Conservative manifesto was less compelling.

"We welcome the Conservatives' proposals to expand Open Finance, as we have long argued that emerging technologies should be leveraged to boost SMEs' access to finance. It's also encouraging to see continued prioritisation of female entrepreneurs, with the Conservatives listening to our ask to commit to the continuation of the Invest in Women Taskforce.

"We're very pleased to see the Enterprise Investment Scheme, Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, Venture Capital Trusts, Business Asset Disposal Relief, Agricultural Property Relief, and Business Relief will be retained, as well as the commitment not to increase Capital Gains Tax.

"We hoped to see bolder action proposed on public procurement, with steps taken to prioritise small business access to large government contracts. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party's proposals in this area seems to have been downgraded, which is disappointing.

"Extending the Shared Prosperity Fund for another three years is one of our key requests, as it funds the majority of regional small business support programmes. However, it appears the funding could be spread thinly across local community priorities like supporting businesses and funding new national service plans."

Labour Party

The Labour Party launched its manifesto on 13 June.

In a section on support for small businesses, the document says:

"Labour's plan for economic growth has been developed for all UK businesses.

"But small firms, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed face unique challenges. That is why, in partnership, Labour has developed a plan for small businesses – the lifeblood of communities and high streets across the country."

The party has pledged to not increase National Insurance, the basic, higher, or additional rates of income tax, and VAT.

The party includes support for entrepreneurs in the full manifesto, but has previously outlined more details in its plan for small business:

  • Tackle late payments by legislating to require the audit committees of big businesses to report on their company’s payment practices.

  • Scrap business rates and replace it with a system of business property taxation that is "fairer for bricks and mortar businesses".

  • Revitalise high streets by tackling anti-social behaviour with new town centre police patrols, creating a new specific offence of assault against retail workers, and giving councils powers to take over empty shops and reopen them.

  • For the period of the next parliament, cap the headline rate of corporation tax at its current rate of 25%, and "will act if tax changes in other countries pose a risk to UK competitiveness".

  • Retain a permanent full expensing system for capital investment.

  • Increase in high street banking hubs.

  • Retain annual investment allowance for small business, and "give firms greater clarity on what qualifies for allowances to improve business investment decisions".

  • Boost small business exports by publishing a trade strategy that businesses have helped shape, looking at ways to remove the barriers to exports for firms of all sizes, improving guidance to make exporting easier, "make Brexit work by improving on the Conservatives' thin deal", and pushing for an EU visa waiver for UK touring artists.

  • Focus on skills with new technical excellence colleges connected to local economic needs, and reforming the apprenticeship levy as a new growth and skills levy.

  • Cut energy bills for small businesses, create commercial opportunities for them and deliver security with a "cheaper, zero-carbon electricity system" by 2030.

  • Make the UK "the best place to start up and scale up" by reforming the British Business Bank to better support SMEs in regions across the UK and unlocking the supply of patient capital for technology-intensive, early stage businesses.

  • Improve small businesses' access to public sector contracts with a "national procurement plan" that includes cutting red tape and requiring that at least one small or medium sized business makes the shortlist when any smaller, suitable contract goes out to tender.

On 18 June, Labour unveiled more details on its plan to open more banking hubs, face-to-face banking services that provide access to cash withdrawals, cash deposits and banking advice and support.

The party said it will open 350 banking hubs over the next five years. Labour also said it will give new powers to the Financial Conduct Authority and strengthen regulation to support cash machine network LINK "to proactively source locations for new banking hubs".

Enterprise Nation's reaction

Commenting on the Labour Party's manifesto and small business plan, Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones said:

"We welcome the emphasis The Labour Party's Manifesto has put on economic growth, making wealth creation its number one priority.

"They are right to prioritise this - and it is clear that start-ups and small businesses will play a major role in bringing this mission to life.

"That's because small businesses innovate more, create better jobs and deliver a bigger boost to their local economy, helping to unlock the 'pride and potential' of their community that Sir Keir Starmer talked about. A thriving small business sector is a catalyst for a more prosperous, resilient, and inclusive society.

"We were pleased to see some key pledges to achieve this - such as the promise to replace the outdated business rates system with a fairer model which aligns much of the cross party work we have been doing, and with our members' asks, outlined in our small business manifesto. We had hoped to see more detail on these specific plans unveiled.

"Going further to tackle the scourge of late payments and requiring large businesses to better-report on their payment practices will provide much-needed transparency and support for small enterprises.

"Opening up competition for public contracts to ensure at least one SME is shortlisted in tenders represents a vital opportunity for small businesses and is one of our key asks to government. Winning government contracts acts like an accelerator for small firms and could be transformative.

"Labour's plan to boost exports through a clear trade strategy and targeted advice will help our members reach new markets and revitalise their expansion plans.

"Guaranteeing access to banking services on the high street through the acceleration of banking hubs is a positive step forward and could form part of a wider regeneration of our high streets to enforce landlords to throw open empty shops -- reinstating our high streets as a community hub powered by small businesses.

"We look forward to working with Labour, if they win the election, to help bring this mission for economic growth to life."

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats launched the party's General Election manifesto on 10 June.

In a section on business, it says:

"We aim to make Britain one of the most attractive places in the world for businesses to invest. Only in partnership with responsible, sustainable businesses can we tackle the cost-of-living and climate crises, and create the wealth to invest in healthcare, education and other essential public services.

"Private enterprise is the principal engine of growth and prosperity in the UK. We will support it by creating a stable business environment with smart regulation and investing in skills, infrastructure, research and innovation. In return, we expect businesses to commit to promote skills, equality and good governance, and to support their local communities."

Policies of relevance to small businesses include:

  • Abolishing business rates and replacing them with a commercial landowner levy to help high streets.

  • Tackle the problem of late payments by requiring all government agencies and contractors and companies with more than 250 employees to sign up to the Prompt Payment Code, making it enforceable.

  • Developing an industrial strategy to "give businesses certainty and incentivise them to invest in new technologies to grow the economy, create good jobs and tackle the climate crisis".

  • Cut income tax by raising the tax-free personal allowance.

  • Expand the British Business Bank to “perform a more central role in the economy to ensure that viable small and medium-sized businesses have access to capital, and enable it to help ‘crowd-in’ private investment, in particular in zero-carbon products and technologies".

  • “Fixing our broken relationship with Europe" with a four stage approach that aims to "place the UK-EU relationship on a more formal and stable footing by seeking to join the Single Market".

  • Introducing a general duty of care for the environment and human rights in business operations and supply chains.

  • Review the government's off-payroll working IR35 reforms "to ensure self-employed people are treated fairly."

  • Support science, research and innovation, particularly among small businesses and start-ups, in universities and in zero-carbon, environmental and medical technologies, including by continuing to participate in Horizon Europe, joining the European Innovation Council, and aiming for at least 3% of GDP to be invested in research and development by 2030, rising to 3.5% by 2034.

  • Work with the major banks to fund the creation of a local banking sector to support local small and medium-sized businesses.

  • Create a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence that "promotes innovation while creating certainty for AI users, developers and investors"

  • Ensuring parliament is "properly" consulted on and signs off on negotiating mandates and any completed international trade agreements.

  • Ensuring that all information small and medium-sized enterprises need on trade is available from a single point of contact, with tailored support for those who need it.

  • Making it a clear objective of trade ministers to boost trade by small British businesses.

  • Support the UK's whisky industry by reviewing the UK excise duty structure to better support whisky exports.

  • Cut resource use, waste and pollution by “accelerating the transition to a more circular economy that maximises the recovery, reuse, recycling and remanufacturing of products”.

  • Replacing the apprenticeship levy with "a broader and more flexible skills and training levy".

  • Guaranteeing apprentices are paid at least the National Minimum Wage by scrapping the lower apprentice rate.

  • Developing national colleges as national centres of expertise for key sectors, such as renewable energy, to deliver the high-level vocational skills that businesses need.

  • Reform the work visa system and expand the Youth Mobility Scheme to help address labour shortages.

  • Establishing a new independent contractor employment status in between employment and self-employment, with entitlements to basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement.

  • Reviewing the tax and National Insurance status of employees, independent contractors and freelancers to "ensure fair and comparable treatment".

  • Setting a 20% higher minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts at times of normal demand.

  • Giving a right to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months for zero hours and agency workers, not to be unreasonably refused.

  • Shifting the burden of proof in employment tribunals regarding employment status from individual to employer.

  • Expand parental leave and pay, including making them day-one rights.

  • Supporting small employers with statutory sick pay costs, consulting with them on the best way to do this.

  • Reforming capital gains tax to "close loopholes exploited by the super-wealthy by adjusting the rates and basing them solely on capital gains while increasing the tax-free allowance from £3,000 to £5,000, on top of a new tax-free allowance for inflation, and introducing a relief for small businesses".

  • Promote creative skills, address the barriers to finance faced by small businesses, and "support modern and flexible patent, copyright and licensing rules".

  • Establish creative enterprise zones to "grow and regenerate the cultural output of areas across the UK".

  • Upgrade the status of tourism in government with a dedicated minister of state for tourism and hospitality.

  • Boost funding for cultural and creative projects by applying to participate fully in Creative Europe.

  • Negotiate "free and simple" short-term travel arrangements for UK artists to perform in the EU, and European artists to perform in the UK.

  • Ensuring that gigabit broadband is available to every home and business.

  • Encourage post offices to become community banking and government hubs.

  • Enhance powers over community assets to help local authorities protect pubs, community farms, and other infrastructure.

Green Party of England and Wales

The Green Party of England and Wales launched its manifesto on 13 June.

The document says:

"Small and medium-sized business are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities. We want to see them supported to play a key role in the green economy of the future, and to create new, quality jobs and training opportunities."

Policies relevant to small businesses include:

  • Campaign to bring the Prompt Payment Code into law, bar late payers from public procurement contracts, and mandate the Small Business Commissioner to investigate potential instances of poor payment proactively, instead of only when a complaint has been made.

  • Equal rights for all workers from first day of employment, including those in the 'gig economy' and on zero-hours contracts.

  • Increase in minimum wage to £15 an hour for workers of all ages, with costs to small businesses offset by reducing their National Insurance payments through increasing the Employment Allowance to £10,000.

  • Wealth tax levied on individual taxpayers with assets above £10m at 1% and assets above £1bn at 2% annually.

  • Commitment to not increase corporation tax.

  • Green MPs will seek to increase investment into research and development by over £30bn in the lifetime of the five-year parliament.

  • £2bn per year in grant funding for local authorities to help businesses decarbonise.

  • Regional mutual banks to be set up to drive investment in decarbonisation and local economic sustainability.

  • Green MPs will push for the introduction of a universal basic income that "will give everybody the security to start a business, study, train or just live their life in dignity".

  • Community ownership to be encouraged through greater access to government funding in the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

  • Align capital gains tax rates paid by taxpayers on income and taxable gains.

  • Align the tax rates on investment income with the tax and National Insurance Contribution rates on employment income.

  • Removing the upper earnings limit that restricts the amount of National Insurance paid by high earners.

  • A move to a four-day working week.

  • A £12.4bn investment in skills and training, "equipping workers to play a full role in the green economy".

  • "Reimagining how we use streets in residential areas to reduce traffic and open them up for community use."

  • A ban on domestic flights for journeys that would take less than three hours by train.

  • A £5bn investment to support community sports, arts and culture.

  • An end to VAT on cultural activities, to lower the prices on tickets to museums, gigs in local pubs etc.

  • Financial support for farmers "to be almost tripled to support their transition to nature-friendly farming".

  • More government support for ordinary car users and small businesses to replace their vehicles as diesel and petrol engines are phased out.

  • Protect the night-time economy through a review of planning regulations and "giving local authorities the powers to ensure there is space for cultural life".

  • Give local authorities discretionary powers to exempt socially and economically essential local enterprises from business rates.

  • Ensure musicians have access to visa-free travel to the EU through "negotiating a reciprocal arrangement at the earliest possible opportunity".

  • Long-term policy aim is a land value tax that means "those with the most valuable and largest land holdings would contribute the most". Steps the party says elected Greens will take towards this include pushing for the removal of business rate relief on enterprise zones, freeports, petrol stations and most empty properties.  

Reform UK

Reform UK launched what it described as "Our Contract with You" on 17 June.

In the section on the economy, the document says:

"British businesses are under huge pressure from high rates, high taxes, red tape, energy costs, skills shortages and a government that doesn't listen. Our high streets are blighted by empty properties. Business talent is moving abroad.

"Reform UK will back risk takers and wealth creators. We will make sure that Britain is open for business."

Policies relevant to small businesses include:

  • Income tax-free threshold increased to £20,000.

  • Increase minimum profit threshold for corporation tax to £100,000

  • Abolish IR35 rules.

  • Increase VAT threshold to £150,000.

  • Abolish business rates for high street based small and medium firms.

  • Online delivery tax at 4% for large, multinational enterprises "to create a fairer playing field for high streets".

  • Cut entrepreneur’s tax relief to 5%.

  • SME enterprise Zones "for left-behind areas" with "a period of zero tax for new or existing businesses that are creating jobs".

  • "Scrap thousands of laws that hold back British business and damage productivity, including employment laws that make it riskier to hire people".

  • Reform the tax system.

  • All public sector bodies to buy 75% of food from UK suppliers.

  • A new tax on employers who employ foreign workers.

  • "Motivate two million back into work" with "particular focus on 16-34 year olds and tax relief for businesses that undertake apprenticeships.

  • Legislate to "scrap EU regulations with immediate effect".

  • Abandon the Windsor Framework.

  • Prepare for renegotiations on the EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

  • "Integrate mental health services into job seeking pathways".

  • Freeze "non-essential immigration".

  • Scrap net zero and "look to UK for cleaner energy sources".

Scottish National Party

The SNP published its manifesto on 19 June.

Small business-related policies include:

  • Independence for Scotland.

  • Rejoin the European and re-enter the EU single market. The SNP says business benefits of rejoining the EU include "cheaper and quicker trading", "more funding for farming, fishing and other rural sectors", "access to workers from across the EU", and "access to the Creative Europe scheme, supporting culture sector cooperation and boosting economic potential of our creative industries".

  • "Mitigate the harm of Brexit on productivity by reviewing immigration rules and expanding shortage occupation lists, so businesses have access to the workforce they need."

  • Full devolution of tax powers "to create a fairer system that protects public services and invests in our economy".

  • Lower rate of VAT for hospitality and tourism sectors, "address the imbalance in VAT rates in the construction sector to encourage the refurbishment and retrofitting of existing buildings and remove VAT from on-street electric vehicle charging".

  • Provide sustainable funding for farming.

  • Prioritise research and investment in artificial intelligence.

  • Strengthen incentives to purchase cleaner vehicles.

  • Devolve employment rights and the minimum wage to "scrap exploitative zero hours contracts, ban ‘fire and rehire’ practices and take action to close the gender pay gap".

  • Amend the definition of worker "to strengthen protections for those with unfair contracts by creating a single status of 'worker' for all but the genuinely self-employed".

  • Increase paid maternity leave to one year, with maternity pay set at 100% of average weekly earnings for the first 12 weeks, then 90% for 40 weeks or £150.00, whichever is lower.

Plaid Cymru

The Welsh political party launched their manifesto on 13 June.

In a section on supporting small businesses, the document says:

"The small business sector is the backbone of the Welsh economy. We want to support economic conditions in which Wales develops its own range of locally owned medium sized companies, which further develop Welsh supply chains and investment: retaining value created within the Welsh economy and leading to improved employment opportunities in high quality, high paying jobs."

Policies relevant to small businesses include:

  • Reform non-domestic rates (business rates) to "establish a system which better supports our small businesses".

  • Reverse reductions in business rates support for small businesses by the Welsh government.

  • Amend the business rates multiplier "to better support high street business, such as retail and hospitality".

  • Work towards a target of 75% of Welsh public sector spend being with companies located in Wales.

  • The UK should re-enter the European single market and customs union "at the earliest opportunity, in order to mitigate the impact of Brexit on Welsh business and reduce overheads and administrative costs".

  • Establish a National Development Agency for Wales.

  • Reform the Development Bank of Wales, aiming for it to "take and profit from greater equity shares in emerging businesses and invest in infrastructure projects, functioning more like a real national development bank".

  • Ensure that Welsh government has the power to develop a community bank to provide local banking services to customers in communities where private banking institutions, such as the big four of HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest, have left the market.

  • Guarantee a high-speed broadband connection to every home and business, including setting up a Welsh Broadband Infrastructure Company to improve digital connectivity in rural areas.

  • Introduce a Business, Human Rights and Environment Bill to "mandate that private companies conduct due diligence in their supply chains to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harms".

  • Implement an apprenticeship living wage.

  • Support legislation to "tackle insecure work, provide paid bereavement and miscarriage leave as ‘day one employment rights’, outlaw fire and re-hire tactics, abolish compulsory zero-hours contracts, establish the right to ‘disconnect’ (a right not to be routinely contacted about work outside normal working hours), and reform shared parental leave".

  • "Close loopholes which allow holiday homes to pretend to be legitimate lettings businesses, so that we can ensure that genuine self-catered accommodation businesses can be protected".

Enterprise Nation's coverage of General Election 2024

Watch 'General Election 2024: The small business debate'

Read Enterprise Nation's small business manifesto for the next government

Follow our election updates by signing up to our newsletter

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance content creator and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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