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ICAEW highlights key member issues at Conservative Party Conference

9 October 2020: The Conservatives’ first party conference since the 2019 election was an opportunity for ICAEW to take in its policy agenda for the coming four years and raise several key issues members are flagging.

Sharron Gunn, Executive Director for Members, Commercial and Shared Services, and Rachel Underhill, Senior Business Strategy Manager, joined the virtual Conservative Party Conference Business Day as part of ICAEW’s party conference engagement this year.

At the heart of Monday’s activity was a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who reiterated that the Government would continue to support businesses and jobs following the impact of the coronavirus. However, Rishi Sunak stressed that in the medium-term, there was a need to move the public finances back onto a sustainable footing and that there were “hard choices” ahead. 

The three strategic themes of the Business Day morning sessions attended by ICAEW’s delegation were Build Back Better, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Partnering with the UK’s SMEs, with each panel featuring MPs from across a range of portfolios to share views on the Government’s plans. 

Of particular interest was the panel on SMEs, which involved Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business, Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, and John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury. The panellists spoke about the impact of COVID-19 and the end of the Transition Period on SMEs, as well as highlighting the need for support from the Government and advisers, the prevalence of entrepreneurship and how export can deliver growth. In particular, Scully mentioned the key role which business advisors play in supporting SMEs, especially in delivering economic growth.

In the afternoon, ICAEW joined two virtual roundtable events with Paul Scully and Luke Hall, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government. During the first session, Scully praised the valuable contribution ICAEW has made in his monthly ministerial calls with business representative organisations and the importance of advisers such as chartered accountants, as well as highlighting the need to simplify the tax landscape for SMEs. 

ICAEW’s Sharron Gunn used the roundtable to raise the difficulties which businesses are experiencing in being able to open bank accounts, and the constraint this poses on economic development. Some of the issues raised by attendees included the need to disaggregate the hospitality sector in government policies, consistency in support measures across all regions and nations, and the importance of small businesses being able to tender for public sector work.

During the second virtual roundtable event with Luke Hall, Gunn raised the movement of economic activity out of cities and how this can support the Government’s levelling up agenda. The Minister highlighted the use of Permitted Development changes to alter the use of buildings and shift government departments away from London. 

ICAEW’s Public Affairs team also virtually attended a series of fringe events featuring members of the Government and looking at the future of the tax system following the coronavirus pandemic and policy options for repairing the public finances.