With manifestos released, debate stimulated and political slogans firmly imprinted in the public mind, the general election is rapidly gathering momentum as the parties outline their intentions, and self-employment, rightly, is a central and keenly disputed topic of contention.
Self-employment is an exponentially growing sector of the UK workforce. But how do the powers that be intend to nurture and support, promote and champion them?
On the night of the first live televised leaders debate in Manchester, Enterprise Nation hosted representatives of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and UKIP, and an audience of entrepreneurs, in London to debate small business issues ahead of 8 June. IPSE was in attendance to find out what they had to say. Set in the historic, grade II listed halls of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), appropriately, the first question was self-employed NICs.
Matt Hancock, former minister of state for digital and culture and Conservative candidate for West Suffolk, hoped the Taylor Review would make recommendations, however issues of tax are outside its remit. Ibrahim Dogus, chairman of SME4Labour and cities of London and Westminster candidate, said Labour would maintain the current rate of self-employed NICs while Lord Monroe Palmer, Lords spokesperson for small and medium-sized enterprises, said the Liberal Democrats were wholeheartedly against any increase.
Rachel Collinson said the Green Party would abolish NICs and incorporate them in income tax while UKIP spokesperson for small business, Ernie Warrender, said they too would maintain the current rate.
The representatives also discussed issues of Brexit, the dangers facing small businesses on the high street and UK investment for budding entrepreneurs before the curtain was drawn with a question from IPSE’s director of policy, Simon McVicker.
“Does the panel appreciate the value that self-employment brings to the UK economy and do they further appreciate attempts to raise NICs, or any other ill-thought taxation on the self-employed, may wellstrangle the goose who lays the golden egg?”
On employment status, Dogus said, in an attempt to crackdown on employers taking advantage of bogus schemes to avoid their responsibilities, Labour’s default position would assume people are employees, until they could prove otherwise.
“The value of self-employment is self-evident,” Hancock said, before issuing a warning to Labour about the detrimental effects their clampdown on flexible employment could have. “We need to make sure rules around employment are modern, keep up with the times and fit people’s preferred way of working.”
Lord Palmer talked of the Lib Dems pledge to give £100 a week to entrepreneurs but criticised Making Tax Digital (MTD), especially for the smallest businesses, where the self-employed would be forced to complete five tax returns every year.
Labour pledged to scrap MTD for businesses below the VAT threshold but the Conservatives argued MTD would be a big positive but they would delay its implementation for the smallest businesses earning under £70,000.
The Green Party finished talking of the need for fibre optic broadband and better investment in infrastructure so that “we can compete with Europe; be ahead of the curve not running to constantly keep up.”
Before the debate, the audience was asked to tell a poll how they intended to vote in the election. The same poll was set again after the debate to ascertain whether those in attendance had been swayed by the panel. The results, in the table on the right, certainly make for interesting reading.
Emma Jones, Enterprise Nation founder and chair of the debate, said: “As Labour lean further to the left and the Conservatives start introducing statutory worker rights, the view from Lord Palmer struck a defiant chord with the audience. Liberal Democrats want a small state, a start-up allowance and a move to tax simplification.
“A vote taken at the end proclaimed the Liberal Democrats had taken an astonishing slice of the Conservative and undecided vote, moving from 15 per cent to 38 per cent, with the Tories moving down to second place on 25 per cent with Labour in third at 19 per cent.
“While this is not necessarily an indication of where the general population will vote on 8 June, small businesses do tend to have a nose for strong economic policy.”