Amidst manifesto changes, early tips toward a Labour victory and the curious sensation of ‘vote-swapping’, it’s been a busy few weeks for British business owners. But as well watching the campaign trail unfold in what, at times, feels like slow motion, opinions have been quick to rally amongst voters, outlining clear policy areas considered most important to British business.
Will we see a repeal, and subsequent freeze of business rates for small business properties (Labour), or, as business owners, suddenly have the option to choose to employ British citizens first (UKIP)? Only time will tell. But based on what we’ve heard so far from over 1,800 business owners, on nine policy areas most relevant to business, we can fathom a guess. Here are the top 10 things they had to say:
1. Cull job creation and zero hours contracts
By a hair (2%), job creation and zero hours contracts was the policy area people felt the most strongly about, with a third of respondents supporting Labour’s stance on the issue. Miliband’s plan to give employees legal right to a regular contract after three months of work has evidently hooked voter’s attention, despite critics saying that this will only encourage employers to sack off staff before they reach that point. It’s estimated that there are now 1.8 million contracts in the UK that don’t guarantee any hours, despite the fact that there is currently no definition for a zero-hour contract in UK law.
2. The Greens to lower corporation tax
Policy sets most agreed with when it came to corporation tax (Greens; 22% and Labour; 21%) set out to lower and maintain competitive rates respectively. But for the Greens, the pledge to keep the rate at 20% for small firms, whilst raising those for larger firms to 30% proved slightly more popular. The party also want to introduce a ‘Robin Hood’ tax— a financial transaction tax— as well as a wealth tax of 2% a year on the top 1%. Labour too offers support to SMEs and start-ups, promising to cut and then freeze business rates for over 1.5 million smaller business properties.
3. To stay in the EU
Holding a significant lead on the matter (28%), Labour’s decisive push to stay in the EU contrasts sharply with that of UKIP (15%), who came in last and want to hold an in/out referendum on UK’s EU membership, with the view to have it terminated. With the second highest degree of support, the Conservatives (20%) are similarly pushing for a referendum, but instead of wanting to head for the exit, seek to negotiate a new settlement for Britain and the EU, which includes staying out of the Eurozone and keeping the pound. Whilst larger impacts this may have on the economy could comprise an essay in itself, very broadly, support to remain in the EU is a nod toward the appeal of foreign investment into the UK. Not to mention the pull of cultural proximity and mobility, especially amongst young entrepreneurs.
4. Not the Lib Dems
The Liberal Democrats, along with UKIP, were the only parties to not garner the most support in any policy area. Coming dead last for devolution to local government policies (14%), the promise to enable devolution of power from Westminster to councils, or groups of councils working together hasn’t done much to compete with Labour’s winning policy set (24%), which advocates the transfer of £30bn of funding to city and country regions, as well as giving them new power where it comes to economic development, and employment and business support. The Lib Dems also shared the second-last place with the Greens for business support and access to finance (18.7% apiece), ahead only of UKIP (16%). Support then for the Lib Dems has remained flatly mid-range across all policy areas throughout the campaign so far.
5. But especially not UKIP
Overall, UKIP’s policies picked up the least support across all areas (17%). In fact, UKIP came in last place for seven out of nine policy areas, experiencing the most spectacular flop where it came to EU and international trade (15%). Business owner’s clear lack of regard for UKIP’s push to leave the EU echoes that of Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs, who told the Guardian that doing so would be the “best thing for all of us”. Given that in 2013-204, foreign investment into the UK was the highest in Europe, and second highest in the world, in the eyes of business owners, the value of foreign investment into Europe seems more so than the idea that the pound may strengthen, if the UK secedes and is considered a ‘safe haven’.
6. …except on devolution to local government
Having said that, we should dwell on UKIP’s near-win amongst respondents: coming second by a fraction (0.15%) to Labour, for policies concerning devolution to local government. For one, this potentially means the end of the Barnett Formula: a system for dictating the level of public spending in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, calculated based on the population of each nation, and the powers devolved to them. Beneath that formula, each receives higher public expenditure per head than England. As well as scrapping the formula, UKIP proposes repeal of EU regulations and directives that stifle business growth, as well as allowing traders to sell in whatever quantities and measures they like.
7. Superfast broadband, like, now* (*by the end of 2017)
Who would say no to superfast broadband? Not almost a quarter (24.4%) of business owners who supported Conservatives on the matter, and felt the most strongly about their policies out of all others on the issue. The party’s pledge to secure delivery of superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017 just clipped Labour’s similar promise to ensure all parts of the country benefit from affordable, high-speed broadband by the end of the parliament: most likely due to the Conservative’s push to make Britain a world leader in the development of 5G technology. Against our booming tech industry (London’s digital sector has been predicted to boost £12 billion into the economy over the next ten years), it’s not hard to see why this tickled business owners’ collective fancy.
8. A higher national minimum wage
And, of employer NI contributions and minimum wage, parties most supported had something key in common: raise the national minimum wage. Labour leads the way (27%) on the issue, followed by the Greens (22.8%), with each party looking to raise the national minimum wage: to over £8 an hour by October 2019, and to raise it to a living wage of £10 per hour by 2020 (which would mean a minimum wage of £8.10 (£9.40 in London) in 2015) respectively.
9. For large companies to publish their gender pay gap
When it comes to employment law, it was Conservative policies that most held stock (24%), followed closely (0.15%) by those of the Lib Dems. Both parties addressed the issue of the gender pay gap, with both pushing to require all companies with over 250 employees to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees. In 2013, the gender pay gap was 10%, which means that the average women will earn 10% less than the average male employee, per hour, but dropped in 2014 to its narrowest since records began in 1997, at 9.4%. In 1997, it was 17.4%.
10. Business support
Who could mention policies that are best for business without dissecting policies on business support and access to finance? Coming out on top again, Labour (26%) seeks to improve access to finance for SMEs, and support a network of regional banks by establishing a British investment bank, and by ensuring there are at least two new challenger banks. Chasing support of start-ups, Conservatives, gleaning the second most support in the area (20.2%) have said they’ll treble the Start-Up Loans programme to allow entrepreneurs to take a loan to set up their own business. This will give 75,000 entrepreneurs the chance to borrow money, which, considering the growing amount of entrepreneurs in Britain, seeks to further bolster this growth.
Across all nine issues identified as most relevant to business, support lies most with Labour (five), followed by Conservatives (three), and then the Greens (one). But whilst Labour’s ahead on some issues, the count is close for many, and there’s still just under two weeks to go.
…so then, who should I vote for?
See where you stand: have a go at our General Election app and find out who you’re most aligned with, based on policies, not party. At the end, we’ll tell you who you most agreed with, how important their policies were to you, and, of course, how you sit in the mix of what other business owners had to say.
Monica Karpinski is a London-based writer who is widely interested in social affairs and politics.
Published Tuesday January 27, 2015