Christine Emmett: Why small businesses need the Conservatives - and what we must be offering them
Christine Emmett has a degree in Economics, is a member of William Hague’s Northern Transport Commission, Vice Chairman of the Biz Club and runs her own company advising on major infrastructure projects. She is on the approved list of Conservative parliamentary candidates.
The owner of a coffee bar in my local town donated £4,000 to the high school so that they could buy Astroturf for the football field.
The Conservatives would be well advised to look after businesses such as this. They are the backbone of local towns and villages. Their owners do not need the title ‘social entrepreneur’ to understand their responsibilities, support communities, provide employment and yes, even set standards of probity and integrity. Small communities have a way of monitoring performance more effectively than any quality system. No-one re- visits the hairdresser who has a reputation for dying your hair purple (unless, of course, that’s your wish!)
According to the Federation of Small Businesses, there are 6,000 such businesses in each constituency. Over half of all Britain’s employees work for the 4 million small- and medium-sized businesses. To win their trust, we must convince them that we understand them and will support the survival and development of their business.
Small businesses are bearing the brunt of recent problems in the economy. At a small business awards ceremony last week the talk was of worse to come:
- The owner of an antiques shop built his business up over the past 10 years and has been burgled 8 times recently. The police have still not found the culprits.
- Last year a firm of solicitors gave its staff a stark choice – take 30% cut in salary or redundancy. Most chose to stay.
So, what can we offer?
First we must tell the truth, a partial element of the recovery is developing confidence. No-one has confidence in those who spin and dissemble. Understanding the psychology of market recovery is vital for trust to develop.
Next we must ensure small businesses get the messages on policies we have already announced such as the establishment of the National Loans Guarantee Scheme, tax breaks for new jobs and reductions in Corporation Tax. These will help encourage businesses to take on new employees, and grow. From Clwyd South to Calder Valley every small business in every marginal seat should know how we value them and know they are a vital part of the country’s economic recovery.
We should be brave in announcing our intentions about cutting public service budgets. Politicians are patronising the public if they think they don’t know. Visit any High street they will tell you: “We cannot afford what we don’t earn”.
It is often said that debt is at its highest level since the Second World War. What is left unsaid is that wars end, and the borrowings come down, debt automatically reduces. This time we have a different problem. Nothing in Alistair Darling’s recent PBR gave any indication that he would be tackling debt any time soon. Increasing taxes such as National Insurance is not just an increased business cost but penalises the job creation I thought we all wanted.
Ask your local newsagent, florist, hotelier, should we keep increasing debt to pay for a bloated public sector? How can we justify retaining the public sector’s retirement age whilst many in the private sector cannot be sure they will be able to afford retirement at all?
We must avoid going the way of Ireland, Greece and Spain where the economies are in such a tailspin they face savage cuts and increased interest rates. For them recovery will be decades away.
A good start is to explain that the time to save the country from economic ruin is now. Labour has, even at this late stage, failed to address the problems, preferring to stumble blindly towards the cliff edge rather than admit they have lost the map.
We will need the votes of the British public to bring the change required. So let’s show we understand the responsibility that goes with asking someone for that vote but also be clear in our objectives and determined in our attitude to do a good job when we are called to govern. It may sound corny to say this but the country needs us now.
The problems are many. Some of us who have experienced previous recessions know we can work our way out of this one. If we really are all in this together, let us set a clear course for reducing debt, building confidence and encouraging business growth.
Not everything we do will be popular, but if we set an overall direction and convince the pubic we are protecting business in the interests of everyone, they will trust us. It is up to us to then to allow businesses to deliver the prosperity they deserve.