Tracking the small business pledges at the 2023 political party conferences

Tracking the small business pledges at the 2023 political party conferences
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Wed 18th Oct 2023

We're keeping an eye on the small business-related pledges and announcements at this autumn's political party conferences. This post is being regularly updated.

Liberal Democrats Conference

23-26 September, Bournemouth

The Liberal Democrats unveiled an early version of its manifesto for the next general election.

Describing itself as "the champions of small businesses", the party said: "We will work in partnership with business to offer stability and ensure that we maximize the opportunities for investment, growth and employment across the country."

In the exact words from the pre-manifesto, the Lib Dems pledged to:

  • Boost high street businesses and empower them to create new local jobs, including by reforming business rates.

  • Develop an industrial strategy that will incentivize businesses to invest in new clean technologies in order to grow the economy, create good jobs and tackle the climate emergency.

  • Unlock British businesses' global potential by bringing down trade barriers and building stronger future relationships with our closest trading partners, including by starting to fix the Conservatives' botched deal with Europe following the four-step roadmap as set out in the international chapter of this paper.

  • Give Parliament real power in setting UK trade policy, by ensuring it is consulted on and signs off on negotiating mandates and any completed international trade agreements.

  • Boost productivity and empower more people to enter the job market – such as parents, carers and people with disabilities – by changing the law so that flexible working is open to all from day one in the job, with employers required to advertise jobs accordingly, unless there are significant business reasons why that is not possible.

  • Fix the skills and recruitment crisis by investing in people’s skills and increasing the availability of apprenticeships and career advice for young people.

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

  • Address the labour shortages that are another outcome of the Conservatives' botched deal with Europe by negotiating reciprocal deals on low-cost, fast-tracked work visas for key economic sectors.

  • Support science, research and innovation, particularly among small businesses and startups, in universities and in zero-carbon, environmental and medical technologies, including participating in the Horizon Europe scheme.

  • Tackle the productivity crisis by providing incentives for businesses to invest in training, take up digital technologies, and become more energy efficient.

Conservative Party Conference

1 - 4 October, Manchester

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones interviewed small business minister Kevin Hollinrake at the Conservative Party Conference SME Day. Read a summary of the conversation here.

The minister has also responded to some submitted questions here.

In his conference speech, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that the national living wage will rise to at least £11 an hour next April. He said:

"Since we introduced the national living wage, nearly two million people have been lifted from absolute poverty. That's the Conservative way of improving the lives of working people. Boosting pay, cutting tax."

On the economy, Hunt said:

"Since 2010 we’ve grown faster than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, and Japan.

"To all the pessimists and declinists who've been talking us down, we say this: don't bet against Britain — it's been tried before and it never works."

In his conference speech, prime minister Rishi Sunak referred to his family's pharmacy business. He said:

"My mother set up her own pharmacy. It was a proper family business. We all chipped in; as a teenager I helped deliver prescriptions and do the books. I learnt there the importance of being able to meet your commitments and make good on your promises.

"My parents are long retired now. But the Sunak pharmacy left me with a lasting respect for every small, family business.

"This Conservative party, the party of the grocer's daughter and the pharmacist's son, will always be the party of enterprise, the party of small business."

The prime minister announced the cancelling of the latest stage of the HS2 rail project. He said:

"HS2 is the ultimate example of the old consensus. The result is a project whose costs have more than doubled, which has been repeatedly delayed and it is not scheduled to reach here in Manchester for almost two decades... and for which the economic case has massively weakened with the changes to business travel post Covid.

"I say, to those who backed the project in the first place, the facts have changed. And the right thing to do when the facts change, is to have the courage to change direction. So I am ending this long running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project. And in its place we will reinvest every single penny, £36 billion, in hundreds of new transport projects in the North and the Midlands, and across the country. This means £36 billion of investment in the projects that will make a real difference across our country."

Sunak trumpeted Brexit as a business benefit:

"Brexit freedoms make us ever more competitive. From financial services to clinical trials to agriculture, we are creating a more agile regulatory system, freeing up business to drive the growth our country needs.

"The fact we control our own trade policy is why we can be the first European country to join the £11 trillion Pacific trade pact, linking us to the fastest growing region in the world and opening up new markets for our farmers and great British products.

"We have new free ports from the Firth of Forth to the Solent, ensuring the benefits of trade and investment are spread across our country. And thank you [business and trade secretary] Kemi [Badenoch] for cutting away Brussels red tape and saving small businesses a billion pounds a year."

Rishi Sunak announced plans for a new single qualification, the "Advanced British Standard", which brings together A-levels and T-levels. He said:

"First, this will finally deliver on the promise of parity of esteem between academic and technical education. Because all students will sit the Advanced British Standard.

"Second, we will raise the floor ensuring that our children leave school literate and numerate because with the Advanced British Standard all students will study some form of maths and English to 18 with extra help for those who struggle most. In our country no child should be left behind."

In her conference speech, science, innovation and technology secretary Michelle Donelan announced an increase in funding for AI scholarships that she said will benefit 800 people:

“Already, AI is being used to detect breast cancer earlier, the capability exists to prevent over 90% of road collisions and it's being used to detect heart disease 39 times faster -- and that's just name a few examples. The opportunities in the future really are limitless.

“But we won't make them a reality unless we have the skills and then we can truly seize these opportunities.

“To ensure that the next generation of the world's AI entrepreneurs are Britain's best and brightest,

“I am today announcing a £8m increase to the number of AI scholarships we are funding.”

Michelle Donelan announced improvements to rural broadband to “ensure the opportunities of technology are spread right across the country – from Folkestone and Falmouth to Hartlepool to Holyhead”. She said:

“Why shouldn’t an entrepreneur in a rural village be able to start a new business from home?

“Why shouldn’t British farmers be able to use state of the art agri-tech and have fast, stable internet connections to sell their produce to more customers online?

“Well, we believe they should have those opportunities, and what’s more, I am today taking action to ensure they do.

”I am announcing that in the coming months, we will be giving access to very hard-to-reach rural homes and businesses to get state-of-the-art satellite broadband to unlock the potential in these rural areas.”

Michelle Donelan announced a £60m Regional Innovation Fund to support 110 universities in areas with lower levels of research and development investment. She said:

“We will back our world class universities to support local businesses, to grow local economies and support opportunities across our country.”

Green Party Conference

6 - 8 October, Brighton

Green Party members backed a motion on companies being required to put environmental and social priorities ahead of financial returns to shareholders.

Ellie Chowns, Green Party parliamentary candidate in North Herefordshire, said:

“I'm delighted that the Green Party agreed that the Companies Act 2006 should be amended so that directors of a company must prioritise public well-being and avoid negative environmental and social consequences.This means that companies will need to invest profits in transitioning their operations to meet social and environmental objectives before distributing dividends to shareholders.This is an idea popular with the public and even with many businesses themselves.”

The Green Party also supported a motion backing a four-day working week.

Catherine Rowett, Green Party spokesperson on work, employment and social security, said:

"The UK has one of the highest working hours rates in Europe while having one of the least productive economies. The Green Party has today backed a policy of introducing a maximum 32 hour working week where workers have a right to request these reduced hours be worked over four rather than five days at no loss of pay.

"A recent trial of a four-day week with a range of organisations from diverse sectors and sizes found that of the 61 companies that participated, 56 are continuing with the four-day week, with 18 confirming the policy is a permanent change.

"The trial found there was an improvement in employees’ well-being, an improvement in work-life balance and an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities. For the businesses involved in the trial, revenue stayed broadly the same over the trial period while the number of staff leaving decreased significantly, dropping by 57% over the trial period.

"The evidence is clear. A four-day working week is good for business, good for workers, good for the climate because people will have to commute less, and it is now confirmed as Green Party policy."

Labour Party Conference

8 - 11 October, Liverpool

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones attended the conference.

Labour held ‘SME Sunday’ a small business focused event on day one of the conference. Shadow business and trade secretary Jonathan Reynolds said:

"Labour knows the value of small businesses, who are not just the lifeblood of our communities but essential to our economic success. Listening to the voice of small business is integral if the next Labour Government is to succeed. That is why Labour will ensure small business is represented on the Industrial Strategy council.

"With Labour, small businesses will get the firm economic foundation they need to thrive, with action to tackle late payments, business rates reform and make it easier for small businesses to win public contracts."

Speaking on the main conference stage on day two, Reynolds said:

"It’s true that the Labour Party has strengthened our relationship with business, and I make no apology for that. In fact, I believe we stand here today as the undisputed party of business. And I take pride in the fact that business leaders and workers alike look to us and not the Conservatives to address the big challenges ahead  

"The Conservatives have nothing left to offer but division and fear and they are willing to blow our greatest opportunity in decades to try and save themselves  

 "But here in the Labour Party that will never be our approach. We know that the best of Britain is when we work together. That the only way to properly rise to the challenges before us, is to build a new pro-business, pro worker national consensus around industrial strategy, greater investment, and good jobs in every part of the UK.

"Industry and workers pulling together, hand in hand to face the future." 

The main stage speech by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was introduced by retail expert and entrepreneur Mary Portas. She said:

"I am absolutely confident that Labour will breathe life back into our high streets again.

"Rachel is committed to scrapping business rates and replacing them with a fairer system that will provide critical support to many of the small businesses that make up – let's face this – 99% of our economy and they are the backbone of Britain.

"Because Rachel understands just how much our high streets matter. This is not just for the economy but for the vital sense of community and connection that they foster.

"She understands that if you get your high streets right and thriving, the subsequent financial and social uplift feeds a local economy, it feeds a community and the safety and wellbeing of the people in it.

"She knows all that because should Labour win she will not just be our first female chancellor, she will be the best qualified chancellor that Britain has ever had."

In her speech, Rachel Reeves said Labour will "rebuild Britain" and "restore our economic stability" if the party wins power. She added:

"As chancellor, I will put forward a new Charter for Budget Responsibility, a new fiscal lock.

"Guaranteeing in law that any government making significant and permanent tax and spending changes will be subject to an independent forecast from the OBR.

"Never again will we allow a repeat of the devastation Liz Truss and the Tory Party have inflicted on family finances.

"Never again will a prime minister or chancellor be allowed to rush through plans that are uncosted, unscrutinised, and wholly detached from economic reality."

On business investment, Reeves said:

"British businesses – from life sciences to the creative industries, from digital to financial services – can and do lead the world.

"But they have been held back by the chaos and instability of this government.

"So Labour will aim to restore investment as a share of GDP to the level it was under the last Labour government, to bring us in line with our peers. Adding an additional £50 billion to our GDP every single year. Worth £1,700 for every household in Britain."

Reeves reiterated her previous pledge to increase the digital services tax paid by large online firms to benefit small high street businesses. She said:

"Economic responsibility does not detract from advances for working people. It is the foundation upon which progress is built.

"Hard choices, but Labour choices.

"The choice to back our high streets and small businesses by requiring online tech giants to pay their fair share."

Shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire said a Labour government will put the creative industries "at the heart of our plan for economic growth” and launch a "national cultural infrastructure plan". She said:

"For everyone to feel the benefits, we need to have the right creative spaces in the right places across our rural areas and towns as well as in our cities in the north and the south.

"As bedrocks of our communities, bringing life back to our high streets, with studios, animation and gaming workshops, art centres, pub theatres, music venues, cinemas, nightclubs, right across the country, because culture should be for everyone, no matter who you are, or where you live.

"Today, I'm announcing that the next Labour government will bring forward Space to Create, the first national cultural infrastructure plan, Labour's plan to fire up the engines of our creative economy.

"A national cultural infrastructure map so local leaders, businesses and philanthropists are better able to spot cultural spaces of risk and opportunities for investment and development spaces to create teams around the country providing guidance training, learning and networking to get creative businesses on a stronger footing."

In an interview with The Art Newspaper, Debbonaire outlined further details about the plans.

The newspaper said the scheme will “seek to embed civil servants from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in communities far from the traditional power centre of Westminster”, where they will focus “on the specific cultural needs of the region, and, in particular, on shielding art organisations that are facing economic strife”.

Shadow technology secretary Peter Kyle said a Labour government would provide "certainty" with seven to 10-year research and development budgets for funding organisations such as UK Research and Innovation. Budgets are currently three years.

In his conference speech, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said:

"Unlike the Tories, we won’t be dragged back to easy answers. The barriers of dogma will not block our path. That’s why we hold out the hand of partnership to business.

"Champion the need for a competitive tax regime. Understand that private enterprise is the only way this country pays its way in the world.

"And at the same time we scrap zero-hour contracts. We end fire and rehire. Make work pay with a real living wage.

"And say unambiguously this is good for growth. We say yes to sound money. Yes to cutting waste and debt. Embrace the need for stability.

"Fiscal responsibility is non-negotiable. And if investment can kick-start growth. If investment can save money in the long-run. Can protect jobs, create jobs, crowd in billions of private investment. Then yes – we must get on and do it.

"Business is ready to join us in this endeavour. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with leading CEOs who tell me it’s the chopping and changing. The sticking plaster politics. The chaos. That is holding back investment in our country.

"That’s why we’ll set up a National Wealth Fund. Work hand in glove with the private sector to rebuild this country. But as we share the risk, we must also share the rewards. So we will make sure that the British people retain a stake in our investments."

Keir Starmer also announced a commitment to a "new generation of technical colleges...with stronger links to their local economies".

A press release issued on day one of the conference said:

"Labour will power growth in every part of Britain by transforming existing FE colleges into new specialist technical excellence colleges. The proposals will give communities the chance to fit skills to the needs of the local economy and empower business to play a bigger role in the skills revolution.

"With Labour’s plans, local government will work hand-in-hand with local businesses and employers to align skills and training provision with local need and real job opportunities.

‘"Technical excellence colleges would be based on a number of criteria including additional investment from local businesses and improved links to local universities. Bids will be assessed by Skills England to make sure local skills plans meet national strategic priorities to grow the economy and reskill people in the jobs of the future.

"The plans will unlock opportunity for people right across Britain and meet the demands of businesses who have been calling for improved skills training."

Scottish National Party Conference

15 - 17 October, Aberdeen

In his conference speech, SNP leader and Scotland first minister Humza Yousaf announced more investment for arts and culture in Scotland:

"I can announce today that over the next five years we will more than double our investment in Scotland’s arts and culture. This means that by the end of the five years, our investment will be £100m higher than it is today.

"This is a huge vote of confidence in the future of our culture sector and in the vital work of bodies like Screen Scotland, Creative Scotland and our festivals.

"Delegates, if politics is about choices, I choose to ensure that Scotland's arts and culture are supported to grow at home, and be seen across the world."

Humza said the SNP will soon publish its industrial policy:

"...precisely because our plan for a new economy will be at the heart of our new independence prospectus, we will shortly bring forward our plans for migration.

"We'll set out plans for our industrial policy. We'll show how we can improve conditions for business and workers. And we'll show how we can encourage greater private sector investment in Scotland."

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. 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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