Three businesswomen from three very different industries give their take on how Labour can engage with them
Bring down the barriers
Labour should bring forward its review of self-employment
One challenge identified by the Beckett report was the perception that Labour was ‘anti-business’. If Labour is to overcome this it needs to prove it understands and shares the aims of small business-owners and the self-employed. One way this could be achieved is by taking a leading role in breaking down the barriers women face in starting and growing a business.
Today, only one in five small businesses in the United Kingdom are majority-woman owned. Yet these businesses contribute over £75bn to the UK economy and employ hundreds of thousands of people.
If women set up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be a huge boost to growth and prosperity in the UK. Understanding the importance of diversity and getting more women into business is central to achieving a vibrant and innovative small business sector.
How this can be achieved is a challenge which the Federation of Small Businesses has been focusing on for some time. A recent No 10 summit of FSB women business-owners outlined some key challenges. They pointed to a need for a wider and more representative range of role models and mentors. They also highlighted the need to improve access to alternative finance and more tailored business support addressing the specific barriers faced by women.
FSB research has found the biggest challenge for women-run start-ups is balancing work and family life, cited by over 40 per cent of our members. Women continue to be more likely to cite ’personal reasons’ when closing down their business, while men are more likely to report ‘business failure’. It is not a coincidence that closures of women-owned businesses tend to peak at ages 25-34 years. Improved childcare and maternity policies must be looked at to ensure there is equality for women in business.
Despite female business-ownership remaining relatively stagnant, the number of self-employed women is increasing, with over half of the growth in self-employment since 2009 attributable to women. This is a positive story. However, there is a lack of recognition of the specific barriers women face. The recent report by Julie Deane on self-employment called for the maternity allowance, available for self-employed women, to be brought in line with statutory maternity pay. This would be a welcome move and could encourage more young women to consider starting their own business. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn promised a welcome review of self-employment at the last Labour party conference, but there has been nothing since. Labour should now deliver on that pledge.
Improving careers advice and education is another real necessity. By promoting alternative business sectors to women at an early age there should be a slow cultural shift away from the idea of ‘male-only’ sectors. All policymakers need to recognise the unique challenges women business-owners face and actively seek ways to support them. By showing leadership and a true understanding of these issues, both ministers and the opposition have the opportunity to prove they back small business and the self-employed.
Helen Walbey is diversity portfolio chair for the Federation of Small Businesses and owner of Recycle Scooters
Listen to the music
Let’s spend some time together
Having worked in the music industry for over three decades, I must admit that I have looked on quietly from the sidelines at our interaction with government. However, over recent years I have become much more aware of some of the numerous challenges that our sector faces and seen where we could and should benefit from useful government assistance. For example, the continual need to clarify relevant provisions to ensure that music creators secure fair value from all content platforms, a far-reaching issue that is always topical and extremely important. From my point of view, I believe how well we will be supported by government is going to be based on our relationship with it. How is the music industry viewed by the Labour party and how does the Labour party relate to us? With this in mind, I thought I would write a letter as one speaking to a friend, to better put my sentiment across.
Dear Labour party
I really appreciate the fact that you recognise and enjoy the many talented people in our sector. That you are more than happy to accept invitations to the high-profile events we put on and to meet, shake hands and take ‘selfies’ with the good and the great among us. However, it does cause some pain to see that for the most part you only seem interested in one area of our character, making this a somewhat one-sided relationship. Some may call our sector complex but I would just call it multilayered. From the creator and copyright on one level, to exploitation and income on another, we need you to interact with all our layers. We need you to support fair pay for artists and songwriters. To stand alongside us as we protect the value of copyright. To work with us as we engage with the many new and constantly changing forms of digital music services. We would like to see you seriously engage with us about strengthening the protection for intellectual property in a digital market. We need your support on training for young music entrepreneurs who cannot afford or are not inclined to go to university, musical instruments in schools, ensuring the EBacc includes the arts and music, planning regulations that prevent heritage music venues from closing and access to seed investment for young music entrepreneurs and so much more (a bit of a mouthful, I know – but I just had to say it).
Of course we will continue to invite you to our events. We will continue to build bridges and create partnerships where we can. But please, don’t just give lip service because you are attracted to our showbiz bling. Take the time to remember some of our other key attributes. I want you to remember that British music was worth £4.1bn to the United Kingdom’s economy in 2014 and employs nearly 120,000 people in full-time jobs (contributing £1.9bn to the economy). That music exports contributed £2.1bn in revenue (over half of the industry’s GVA – well above the economy-wide ratio of around 30 per cent). I want you to take our relationship seriously.
I truly hope this letter finds you in good health and I alongside many of my esteemed colleagues look forward to taking some ‘quality time’ with you, so that you can get to know us better.
Paulette Long OBE
Paulette Long is director of Westbury Ltd/PRS for Music/MPA Ltd
Labour can engage positively with business – if it wants to
Any business is looking for politicians to listen, understand, and engage. The Labour party currently is not doing any of these three things.
The leadership of the party has set out its opinion that business, and particularly big business, cannot be trusted. That the Labour party should hold these businesses to account when it comes to tax, employment, pay, environmental impact, social impact, and much more. And of course it should. But what is important is how the party approaches business. It should be with a sense of common endeavour, to find areas of collaboration, building polices that respect and celebrate the role business can play in Britain’s progress. It should not be finger-pointing, or aggressive, and it certainly should not vilify business.
So what can Labour do to win back the trust of business?
Ensure that those politicians that are engaging with business actually have a deep understanding of business, can talk business language, and are seen as peers to senior business leaders in the United Kingdom. Figures such as Pat McFadden are highly respected by the business community and are able to rebuild relationships and credibility.
Create a policy platform that is attractive to businesses both small and large. Business is critical to economic stability and future growth, so should be at the centre of our policy development. If we can create a high-growth, balanced economy, then we will have more resources available to invest in our frontline services.
Engage businesses and business leaders regularly and in a meaningful way. The best businesses put their people first and so have great insight beyond the obvious business issues. They can help the Labour party to understand the everyday challenges faced by British people, which can be incredibly diverse depending on which part of the country people live and work in.
Businesses of all shapes and sizes are absolutely essential to the future success of our country. If the Labour party is to be taken seriously by voters it must reach out to business, rebuild trust and respect, and build a manifesto that has growth at its heart.
The current leader, and his closest allies, continue to treat business as the enemy. If this continues it is a pathway to electoral oblivion.
Jo-ann Robertson is partner and deputy chief executive of Ketchum London and a member of the Progress strategy board
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