Dear Prime Minister, please listen to British business

Stephen Kelly
Almost 70 per cent of SMEs feel under-represented in government (Source: Getty)

morning I am pleased to support an open letter signed by over 50 entrepreneurs, leaders and experts from across the UK. This letter will be delivered to the successful party elected to government on Thursday evening.

The accompanying report, by The Entrepreneurs Network, “A Boost for British Businesses”, includes the ideas and policy proposals of a wide group of experts and entrepreneurs to ensure entrepreneurship flourishes in every region of the country.

Since the economic downturn and Brexit, small and medium-sized businesses have proven most resilient, creating over two thirds of all new jobs in the UK.

Yet, Sage’s research shows almost 70 per cent feel under-represented in government. Over half of British businesses pay their people through Sage, so we think we’ve got a responsibility to try and address that. When you consider the contribution they make in terms of uncertainty, it has never been more important for government – regardless of its political persuasion – to listen to British entrepreneurs.

Simplification is a theme that runs throughout the report. Whether in procurement, regulation, tax, skills or business support, the ability to simplify and unshackle our businesses from outdated policy and draconian legislation is key if we want to unlock their potential.

We have dozens of specific policy proposals, but I’ll focus on three that we are particularly passionate about: skills, digital, and exporting.

To address the skills deficit, let’s take forward Lord Young’s proposal to introduce an Enterprise Passport – a digital record of all extra-curricular and enterprise-related activities that students take part in throughout their education.

Also, Brexit negotiations will result in significant changes to the immigration system, and we don’t want to cut off the flow of talent. The report calls for immediate reforms, such as third-party sponsorship model for entrepreneurs and the employees in startups looking to scale.

Emerging technologies like machine learning and big data will be key to closing the UK’s productivity gap and boosting growth across the business community. With only 50 per cent of businesses embracing digital tools, we need measures that put digital transformation at the heart of the government’s agenda. A secretary of state at the heart of government, solely dedicated to driving a positive digital agenda across the business community is needed.

And there is much more we can do to open up public procurement opportunities to many more of Britain’s innovative businesses. Whether that’s ramping up investment in an online platform to rival America’s GSA Advantage and South Korea’s Koneps procurement system, or opening up more quality government data to enable entrepreneurs to build innovative businesses.

We still have a long way to go before we reach our exporting potential. When we surveyed our customers, half said that the most important factor for how government can support small business is helping to drive export opportunities.

Among other interventions, the government should look to successful exchange programmes and incubators run abroad, such as the Australian Landing Pads and Swiss Government’s CTI Market Entry Camps that provide short term operational bases for start-ups and scale-ups.

We call on the next Prime Minister to take action. The policies we put forward are not reliant on the vagaries of Brexit negotiations or major public spending commitments, and if realised, will give a clear signal that the UK is not only open for business, but the best place to start and grow a business, too.

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