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Parties fight for small business vote

Representatives of five political parties put forward their plans to support small business at hustings hosted by ICAEW in London.

The 2019 General Election Small Business Debate

December 2019

Held in association with Enterprise Nation, and supported by freelance organisation IPSE, start-up organisation Coadec, and The Entrepreneurs Network, the event at Chartered Accountants’ Hall heard arguments from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green and Brexit parties as each set out why they were the party for business.

Introducing the debate, Iain Wright, ICAEW’s director for business and industrial strategy, said that history has shown that some general elections were more important than others and that the one on 12 December could shape the country for years to come.

“Political parties,” he said, “ignore the needs of small businesses at their peril.”

The debate was chaired by Daniel Thomas, the Financial Times’ executive news editor. Ahead of the debate, the audience were asked their voting intentions. The Liberal Democratic party, represented by deputy leader Sir Ed Davey, started the evening in the lead at 39%, just; three percentage points ahead of the Conservatives, represented by business secretary Liz Truss.

By the end, thanks to a strong commitment to stopping Brexit and keeping the UK firmly in the European Union, the Lib Dems had jumped to 54%, with the Conservatives at 24%.

Labour also suffered; represented by Bill Esterson, the shadow small business minister, the party started out with the backing of 21% of the 150-strong audience but support shrank during the evening to just 11%.

The Greens, represented by deputy leader Amelia Womack, finished the evening on 7% while Hector Birchwood, the Brexit candidate for Holborn and St Pancras, polled 4%.

Truss argued that the Conservatives “believe in business, you are heroes”, while Davey said that as a believer in the free market, free trade and competition, it was vital to stop Brexit.

Birchwood shifted the debate towards the removal of business rates, while Womack also called for business rates to be removed and replaced with a land value tax.

Esterson focused on the scourge of late payment, but called for the end of uncertainty caused by Brexit.

The debate also addressed IR35 and the controversial Loan Charge, with Esterson calling for the roll out of changes to the way IR35 is implemented in the private sector to be stopped.

Malcolm Bacchus, former LSCA President, tweeted during the debate: “Many widely different views: the battle lines are clearly being drawn.  The problem is what happens when the battle is over.”

ICAEW has launched It’s More Than a Vote campaign, to engage with leading political figures via social media and offer our insight and expertise on the biggest challenges facing our economy and society.

As in previous elections, ICAEW will remain non-partisan, but will be providing analysis of the implications of policy proposals in the context of the public interest.

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