Archives For Labour

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

We teamed up with the New Statesman to discuss this subject matter at the three party conferences – see a link to the report at the bottom of this blog, but here is my takeaway.

I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who does not think business cares about politics; politicians set the framework in which business operates, a working relationship is paramount. But do politicians care about business; does it only care about a certain type of business? This was the broader theme for the discussion.

The last few years have been difficult; the pressure on the public purse was always going to lead to trade-offs and some issues taking prevalence. And our members support austerity (mild or severe) if imposed at the right pace.

However if recovery is to continue, access to finance is key. As an organisation that supports members from small to large businesses, we recognise that their needs are distinct but that they are also intertwined; businesses do not operate in silos, they are party of a larger supply chain. We are keen to push all three of the parties to continue to champion alternative forms of finance and access to it. We know from our members that this is crucial and the small business bill has taken steps to improve this. There is some evidence that all parties recognise the importance of it but it’s about making sure the practical regulation works for business.

The issue of Europe was unsurprisingly part of the debate at Conservatives; as a global organisation we recognise the need for stability, that’s what our members want and that’s what is needed for businesses to attract long-term sustainable investment. Why would we cut ties with our biggest trading partner? That’s not to say reform isn’t needed, but reform from within not from the outside.

Of course discussing Europe involves a debate around immigration; that debate must be an honest one. We have a skills gap and so while we are working to plug that over the medium-term, we still need to fill it in the short-term. We believe all parties need to recognise that and taking students out of the net migration figure and treating them as a talent pipeline for business will help achieve that.

Ultimately politics involves trade-offs and risks, much in the way business does, but it is about calculated risk, evidence and taking a long-term view.

Politics is at its best when it recognises that it doesn’t have all the answers and that it shouldn’t try to. Instead as with any good relationship, the success comes through hard work, collaboration and concession on both sides.

To download a copy of the report click here.

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Ian Murray MP

By Ian Murray MP, Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment

Improving trade will be vitally important to growing the UK in the coming decade. Indeed, boosting exports must be a national mission. The current Government has also recognised that and have set an ambitious target to increase exports to £1 trillion by 2020. However, there are concerns that the pace at which exports are expanding isn’t fast enough.

The headline news from the Office for National Statistics is that the monthly trade deficit in February narrowed, down to £2.1bn from the £2.2bn in January. The value of goods exports was the lowest since October 2010, while the goods deficit excluding oil and items such as precious stones and aircraft – widened from £8bn to £8.5bn.

For these statistics to improve, Labour believe that Britain’s small and medium-sized businesses will be crucial to driving our exports and we are looking at ways we can support them to do that.

Ensuring that firms have access to the finance they need to export is a crucial. That is why the Government’s two flagship export schemes – the £5bn Export Refinancing Scheme and the £1.5bn Direct Lending Scheme – need to start lending and I would encourage ministers to look urgently at the performance of these schemes.

The UK needs to get more businesses exporting to boost middle-income jobs and grow our way out of the cost-of-living crisis and so we can ensure Britain can compete in growing global markets. We have fantastic, innovative businesses, and many important advantages on which to build up our exports. We have a strong British brand, our language, our legal system, and even our time-zone work in our favour. We should be drawing on the rich cultural tapestry of Britain, building on the links with our Disapora communities to strengthen trade links with emerging markets, and building city-to-city links as Chuka Umunna the Shadow Business Secretary outlined last week. To grasp the opportunities and exploit our full potential needs a Government that is prepared to act and prepared to support.

If this does not happen we will not only miss being ahead of the game and fail to grasp the opportunities with regard to exports to the BRIC economies, the ship will sail on the new wave of fast growing economies – the Next Eleven, including the recently much publicised MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) countries.  Ministers must do much more than offer warm words.

As April’s Western Union International Trade Monitor has shown, only 9% of SMEs have customers in China compared to 15% a year ago, whilst only 6% sell to India (vs. 14% in Q1 2013). Indeed, the percentage of SMEs planning to expand into emerging markets fell from 36% in Q4 2013 to 28%. That’s not good enough. These are exactly the markets that UK businesses should be breaking into, but they can only do this with the support of an active government which utilises its export guarantees, a future Labour Government would be as active as possible.

The next Labour government will make it a central mission to boost exports, innovation and investment as part of Agenda 2030, which is our plan for better-balanced, sustainable growth. This means engaging with our European partners using our membership of the EU to reform it and to help us as we look to boost our exports in new markets overseas and help more small firms export. The UK mustn’t head for the EU exit door, an approach which would do nothing for jobs and the ability of smaller and medium sized businesses to export.

Our Small Business Taskforce has made a number of recommendations to Labour which we are examining. These include creating export hubs in major world cities to give UK firms a foothold; export “rainmakers” who can help small businesses identify and approach potential customers; and a suite of export finance products comparable to those offered by the US Small Business Administration.

As a former small business owner, I know the importance of having a government which supports business and steps up not steps away. We have businesses across the country that have huge ambition. It needs to be matched with a government prepared to act.