Politicians could use a business lesson from UK entrepreneurs

Philip Salter
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Entrepreneurs might not have an obvious political home, but that doesn’t mean they should put up or shut up (Source: Getty)

The Conservative party has long styled itself as the party of business, but Brexit is straining that claim past breaking point.

At the same time, Labour has lurched to the left. As our new report, Parliamentary Snapshot 2017, reveals, entrepreneurs no longer have a home in British politics.

Now in its fourth year, alongside Bircham Dyson Bell (BDB) and through YouGov, we’ve surveyed a representative sample of MPs to reveal what they think and know about entrepreneurship. The key finding this year is that 66 per cent of Conservative MPs want a hard Brexit.

Read more: Lord Mandelson: Brexit risks blowing up the economy

Prior to the referendum, no survey worthy of the name found more business owners wanting to leave than stay. Leave, we must. But now the majority of entrepreneurs would prefer it as soft as possible, keeping us within the Single Market.

Although our survey also found that 92 per cent of Conservative MPs think lowering business taxes would be good for entrepreneurs, this will provide little solace for the many entrepreneurs trading with Europe.

Labour MPs are still much more supportive of the EU. In fact, 71 per cent think remaining in the EU is best for entrepreneurship, with just eight per cent backing a hard Brexit.

It is possible that leader Jeremy Corbyn is every bit as hard a Brexiteer as the driest Tory, but at least anti-Brexit entrepreneurs might have been able to ally themselves to the views of his MPs. However, they would also have to sign up to a party that appears to favour raising taxes – many of which their MPs don’t seem to fully understand.

Just 26 per cent of Labour MPs think cutting personal taxes would be good for entrepreneurship, and only 37 per cent are positive about cutting business taxes. In our 2016 survey, 59 per cent were supportive of cutting business taxes. New blood and new ideas seem to have shifted Labour leftwards.

This would be worrying enough on its own, but the report once again found a lack of knowledge across the House of Commons about schemes to support entrepreneurs, with knowledge of key tax breaks taking a dive.

Since last year, support across the House for Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) dropped from 65 to 52 per cent, while support for the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) dropped from 45 to 34 per cent. Over the same period, Labour MPs’ support for the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) fell off a cliff, plummeting from 40 to 28 per cent.

It’s not that MPs dislike these schemes – most haven’t even heard of them. The 10,000 entrepreneurs in our network laud SEIS, EIS and VCTs, and could be forgiven for feeling nervous of politicians that are both ignorant of and unsupportive of

tax cuts.

It’s not all bad news though. The most encouraging finding in this survey is the continued and growing support of MPs for making it easier for skilled workers to move to the UK.

Since 2014, we have seen an increase – 40 per cent to 50 per cent – of Conservative MPs who think that making it easier to hire skilled workers from abroad would be beneficial for British entrepreneurs; even better, Labour MP support has shot up from 53 per cent to 70 per cent.

Similarly, making it easier for entrepreneurs to move to the UK is the second most popular policy shift, with 79 per cent of MPs across the Commons positive about it.

Entrepreneurs might not have an obvious political home, but that doesn’t mean they should put up or shut up.

The 650 MPs in the House of Commons need to understand why Britain is one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business, and how we can ensure it remains so.

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