It was interesting – and welcome – to note the Conservatives seemed to have a change of tone to be pro-business. FSB’s hard push to get pro-business and, particularly, pro-small business, messages in the speeches, and especially in Theresa May's, paid off.
In her speech, the Prime Minister included an anecdote about a young woman who had told the PM that her ambition was to start a business so she could create jobs in her local community.
The Prime Minister went on to say: ‘The people in this hall who have started their own businesses will know how thrilling it is to take a risk and start something new. But offering someone a job - creating opportunity for other people - is one of the most socially-responsible things you can do. It is an act of public service as noble as any other. To everyone who has done it - we are all in your debt. So, we in this party, we in this hall, we say thank you.’
May’s words were particularly pertinent given FSB’s current research into the role small businesses play within our local communities.
As the party of Government, the Conservatives were able to announce five or six key Government policies at their Conference. This year, one of these was purely for FSB’s members - following our intense campaigning – a Call to Evidence on late payments for small business.
Business Secretary Greg Clark has now announced a package of measures to safeguard small firms from late payments. This includes the appointment in government departments of a non-executive director to look after the supply chain, as well as a promise that 90 per cent of invoices will be paid by Government within five days.
There were other policy announcements too; an extension to the fuel duty freeze for a ninth year. While aimed at consumers, this is also vital for our members. All businesses rely on road travel for customers, supplies, products, materials, and staff.
So we are delighted with this decision, especially for our members in rural areas who rely most on car travel, and members who have no option but to use vans. We also secured a loosening of the rules on apprenticeships, with large firms now able to share 25 per cent of their levy income (rather than 10 per cent) with their supply chain.
It was good to witness FSB being feted throughout the official 'business day' of Labour conference. I was invited to speak to 150 business leaders about what FSB believes Labour should offer UK small businesses. This was a great opportunity to get our members’ voices heard in a key political arena.
Following the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s big speech in the Conference Hall, we were delighted that he chose to join us for FSB’s Small Business Question Time (pictured above), hosted by Helen Lewis, deputy editor of New Statesman. The room was over spilling and many of those wishing to join us had to stand outside.
I’m happy that Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey used her speech to unveil a new package of measures to boost the high street, on the back of FSB's own five-point plan set out in our High Streets Hub which we launched in September.
We were pleased that, in his speech, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn included a reference to how the collapse of Carillion has impacted severely on small businesses.
That helped keep the pressure on the Government on the issues of procurement and late payments leading to the announcements at the Conservative Conference a week later, as mentioned above.
As this year’s UK party conference season draws to end, I’m proud that FSB has achieved influence across parties. Much of our attention, now, is focused on the forthcoming Chancellor’s Autumn Budget, and we will, of course, be analysing the impacts of that for small businesses on the day.