The ultimate small business guide to political parties' election promises

Christopher Goodfellow
Sift Media
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The main parties have released their general election manifestos. BusinessZone takes a look at the key promises for small businesses in this handy guide.

●    Skip to the Conservatives, Labour, Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and The Green Party

The Conservatives

The Conservative manifesto tackles SMEs' access to finance by pledging to treble the number of Start Up Loans and launching Help to Grow, which is aimed at growth-stage businesses.

The party’s key pledges for small businesses include:

  • "Conduct a comprehensive review of business rates [this started in February]
  • "Trebling the Start Up Loans programme during the next Parliament, so that 75,000 entrepreneurs get the chance to borrow money to set up their own business
  • "Launch Help to Grow, which hopes to create £1bn in loans for high-growth businesses by providing government guarantees to banks
  • "We will raise the target for SMEs' share of central government procurement to one-third
  • "Allow councils to keep a higher proportion of the business rates revenue. Pilot schemes will mean local councils in Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire East retain 100% of any growth in business rates"

The BusinessZone verdict:
"The Tory manifesto is small business-lite, with just four mentions of these firms in 84 pages. However, it does take in finance for small and growing firms, a 'comprehensive' business rate review and includes a promise on public sector procurement. 

"It makes sense to judge the Conservatives on their time in office, too. The party's efforts on Growth Vouchers, Start Up Loans and the British Business Bank were welcomed. However, they stopped short on using the Small Business Act to introduce penalties for late payments, which many business owners saw as a lost opportunity."


Labour promises the party will form a "government that is both pro-business and pro-worker" and its manifesto pledges one-to-one careers advice for every teenager in an effort to create business-ready employees.

The party’s key pledges for small businesses include:

  • "We will address rising costs for small businesses and strengthen rules on late payment
  • "Instead of cutting Corporation Tax again for the largest firms, we will cut, and then freeze business rates for over 1.5m smaller business properties
  • "Cut and then freeze business rates and maintain the most competitive corporate tax rates in the G7
  • "Increase the National Minimum Wage to more than £8 an hour by October 2019 and introduce Make Work Pay contracts to provide tax rebates to firms becoming Living Wage employers
  • "Ban exploitative zero-hours contracts
  • "Guarantee an apprenticeship for every school leaver who attains the grades and require any firm that gets a large government contract to offer apprenticeships
  • "Introduce a British Investment Bank and support a network of regional banks"

The BusinessZone verdict:
"Labour's push to include automatic fines for late payment through the Small Business Act wasn’t successful, but the manifesto shows they want to stay the course on this policy. Solving the access to finance issue is difficult and it’s not yet clear how the British Investment Bank will work in practice (BusinessZone hopes to publish more details on this shortly)."

Scottish National Party

When announcing the Scottish National Party's business manifesto SNP deputy first minister John Swinney stressed the importance of business rate relief and enforcing prompt payment.

"Electing a team of SNP MPs in numbers at Westminster will enable us to push to put prompt payment measures for small businesses into law – offering real help to make sure small businesses are paid on time," Swinney said.

The party's key pledges for small businesses include:

  • "Seek to ensure small businesses are paid on time by pushing for prompt payment measures to be put into law
  • "Press for the early devolution of Air Passenger Duty to boost our tourism sector
  • "Seek a funding boost for house building from the UK government
  • "Support an increase in infrastructure investment, pushing for HS2 to connect to Scotland with a high speed connection between Glasgow, Edinburgh and the north of England as part of any high speed rail network
  • "Seek additional investment to support a more rapid rollout of superfast broadband
  • "Make the case for a targeted approach to business taxation, with targeted changes in tax allowances"

The SNP has not yet released its full manifesto, but has confirmed its business policies.

The BusinessZone verdict:
"The SNP want to tackle the two biggest issues for small businesses - business rates and poor payment - and it has a good record. Scottish firms benefit from the most competitive business rates package in the UK. The Small Business Bonus means firms receive 100% rate relief on properties up to a rateable value of £10,000, 50% up to £12,000 and 25% up to £18,000. It’s an impressive platform for a party that is likely to make a real difference north of the border. There is, however, less focus on access to finance than other parties."

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats' vision for government revolves around taking "a long-term approach to supporting business and industry, helping supply credit, skilled workers and infrastructure".

The party's key pledges for small businesses include:

  • "Provide further support to medium-sized businesses through a one-stop-shop for accessing government support, a dedicated unit in HMRC and the development of management skills
  • "Expand the British Business Bank to perform a more central role in the economy, tackling the shortage of equity capital for growing firms and providing long-term capital for medium-sized businesses
  • "Encouraging the growth of crowdfunding and alternative finance models
  • "Promoting a new community banking sector to support small and medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises
  • "Grow a competitive banking sector, support alternative finance providers and improve access to finance for business and consumers
  • "Liberal Democrats remain committed to introducing Land Value Tax, which would replace Business Rates in the longer term and could enable the reduction or abolition of other taxes
  • "Continue our work to open up public procurement to small and medium-sized companies and to the voluntary sector
  • "Complete the rollout of high-speed broadband, to reach almost every household (99.9%) in the UK as well as small businesses in both rural and urban areas
  • "Double the numbers of businesses hiring apprentices and give young people aged 16–21 a discount bus pass to cut the cost of travel"

The BusinessZone verdict:
"As part of the coalition government Vince Cable was fundamental in introducing the British Business Bank (BBB). The manifesto builds on this by promising to promote the bank, support alternative finance. It also includes welcomed broadband commitment and is unique in tackling the sources entrepreneurs can use to get advice."

UK Independence Party

The UKIP manifesto's small business section sets out promises to reduce business rates, tackle late payment, increase access to finance and cut red tape.
"If you run a small business, then UKIP is the party for you," Margot Parker, MEP and UKIP’s small business spokesman, said in the document. "We will do everything we can to help you be competitive in Britain and the global market."

The party’s key pledges for small businesses include:

  • "If a business has only one property and the rateable value is less than £50,000, the business will get 20% rate relief. If the business has more than one property, the 20% relief will still apply, provided the total rateable value of all properties is less than £50,000
  • "UKIP will introduce a scheme whereby small businesses will provide evidence of repeated late payments to HM Revenue and Customs. If the large company is found to be systematically exceeding its contractual terms of payment with small businesses, a sanction of significant fines, proportionate to the extent of the abuse of terms, will be levied
  • "UKIP will pilot a scheme to improve access to trade credit insurance to small businesses. This insurance already exists in the market, but can prove restrictive for smaller companies, especially in certain business sectors
  • "We will push every local authority in the country to offer at least 30 minutes free parking in town centres, high streets and shopping parades, to encourage shoppers into our town centres and boost local business
  • "UKIP will repeal EU regulations and directives that stifle business growth
  • "UKIP will make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to tender for public sector contracts, by removing the necessity to demonstrate compliance in areas irrelevant to the job being tendered for
  • "Allow young people to start an apprenticeship in place of four non-core subjects at GSCE level"

The BusinessZone verdict:
"UKIP has come under fire for being a one-policy party. The party’s manifesto leads with a pledge for a referendum on EU, but surpassed the level of detail on small business policies of any of the other parties. Indeed, the manifesto includes 25 mentions of ‘small business’ and ‘small firms’, and a section dedicated to small businesses. Impressive stuff."

The Green Party

The Green Party’s business focuses on greater support of local businesses as an environmental and community measure.

"Local businesses are more responsive to local communities and are often better employers than remote, large ones. Income differences are smaller in small firms," its manifesto says.

The party's key pledges for small businesses include:

  • "Ensure that legislation requiring that small businesses should be paid on time is properly enforced
  • "Make it easier for small businesses to employ people and contribute towards paying the living wage by using receipts from a wealth tax to reduce employers’ National Insurance in the longer run to 8%
  • "Improve the competitive position of small firms, maintaining corporation tax for small firms at 20% while raising that for larger firms to 30%
  • "Increase access to finance by investing £2bn in a network of community banks, mutually owned and serving local areas or particular groups
  • "Help small businesses in the tourism and restaurant sector by lowering VAT to 5% for cooked food, entertainment and accommodation, costing £6 billion a year
  • "Keep trade local by allowing local authorities to favour local procurement to help their local economy
  • "Ensure that the great majority of honest small businesses can compete fairly with the less scrupulous by cracking down on tax evasion
  • "Give BT and other public telecommunications operators an obligation to provide affordable high-speed broadband-capable infrastructure to every small business
  • "Expand cooperative education, teaching young people the history of cooperatives as well as how to set them up in practice
  • "We will ensure business qualifications will give the same emphasis to cooperative and mutual business models as to other private enterprises
  • "Introduce a cooperative development fund managed by community banks to finance new and expanding cooperatives"

The BusinessZone verdict:
"The Green Party manifesto mentions small businesses and firms more frequently than the three main parties. The party sees supporting small business, particularly local retailers, as providing environmental and community benefits, and that’s a positive attitude to take."

 The small business vote


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