It won’t have escaped your notice that we’re in the middle of a general election. And you won’t be surprised that, as a minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, I’d like to set out for readers of The Grocer how I think Labour has helped businesses since 1997 and our plans to make further progress if we are elected to serve a third term.
My parents ran a village store and I know from them that the key to success and increasing prosperity is a stable economy. I’m proud that, under Labour, the UK is enjoying the longest period of sustained low inflation and interest rates since the 1960s. Employment is at record levels and unemployment is at its lowest since 1975. And there are 300,000 more businesses since 1997, with new ones starting up at the rate of 1,000 a day. That means more people with money in their pockets, more businessmen and women having the confidence to start up new ventures and more companies having the confidence to invest and plan for the future.
Small businesses play a critical role in our economy. There are almost 3.8m small businesses in the UK, accounting for more than 99 per cent of the total number of firms, employing 12.6m people. Your presence also brings vitality to local communities. All of us know that readers of The Grocer don’t just provide shopping, but also meeting places, community information and a host of other services.
Labour has made it easier for people to start their own business. It used to take a whole week and a stack of forms to set up a business. Today, for most entrepreneurs, it’s one form, one day - the simplest and quickest in Europe. We’ve worked to lift burdens on smaller firms, including simplifying company law and payroll legislation, and exempting firms with turnovers of £58,000 or less from having to register for or pay VAT. And we’ve streamlined the number of government-funded areas of support for all businesses from 100 to 10.
A key part of our strategy will be to do even more to reduce the unnecessary regulations and red tape that can hold back the development and productivity of firms. Good and responsible businesses should have less inspection and, following the publication of the Hampton review, we will implement reforms to reduce costs and minimise burdens on business. We will
introduce a tough new target to further reduce the administrative burden of the tax system on small businesses, including in the short term cutting the tax return for 500,000 of the smallest businesses by introducing new options to pay and manage VAT online. And we will work with the Small Business Council to identify new ways to simplify and reduce the demands placed on small businesses from government forms, mail outs and requests for business information.
Labour is committed to ensuring that the UK continues to provide the best possible location for businesses to grow and prosper. Our goal is to raise the productivity and competitiveness of the UK economy by investing in the national infrastructure of skills, transport, science and innovation, and by encouraging enterprise.
Giving consumers a better deal is another important priority for a Labour third term. We’ve already improved the enforcement of consumer law and enabled consumer bodies to make ‘super-complaints’ to the Office for Fair Trading and other competition authorities. If we are elected on May 5, we will continue to work closely with consumer groups and industry to ensure consumers have access to accurate, easily understandable information, know their rights, and can exercise them effectively.
Britain faces two visions for the future - forward with Labour to economic stability and wider opportunities. Or back to the bad old days under the Conservatives. That’s the choice facing people on May 5.