Empowering the Freelance Economy

Tories must stop sugarcoating their “small business” and startup “support”

Talk of ambitions for small businesses by the PM this week left people unconvinced any concrete plans will emerge. /Photo Source: 10 Downing Street
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PM Rishi Sunak spoke to an audience at the CBI this week expressing that the Conservative government wants to “support small businesses to innovate.” But few in the audience were convinced those words would amount to anything concrete in the form of reformed tax or small business incentive policies.

Like most political PR clips we see of a politician, it’s always in some High Street shop purchasing a little something or other at the till or in some glossy “high tech” startup’s offices. But the majority of micro and small businesses won’t be found in either of those places, so shouldn’t government business growth and tax policies reflect that?

No surprise then that Mr Sunak made a reference to the High Street in his speech to the CBI on supporting small businesses: “On every high street, in every market town, every day we rely on brilliant local businesses from the greengrocer to the dry cleaner to the local plumber. We should be ambitious for their future too. The real prize is supporting them to innovate. And that’s exactly what we’re doing with new initiatives like Help to Grow and Made Smarter.

The two support programmes he mentions are very limited in scope as to who they support. Help to Grow only supports companies that employ 5 people or more, so that’s freelancers, first and second-year startups and micro businesses excluded. According to the website, there are costs involved to the tune of £750 per person and multiple members of staff cannot participate.

Made Smarter is for manufacturers and technology providers that want to go digital. Well if you have been following the Made.com fall from grace story in the business press (2021 valuation of £775m, sold in a fire sale to Next in 2022 for a reported £3.4m) maybe there is a way to describe your business as a tech business even if it isn’t and see what happens. I jest, of course.

While these two programmes may be useful for some, why not just make a one-off digital (online) scale-up business course available to the masses? That’s innovative and much more inclusive. Video clips could be added each year by experts in their fields of business to inspire and educate. These clips would be paid for by the companies representing the expert as part of their PR/Marketing budget and thought leadership content.

People could learn in their own time. From apprentices looking to branch out on their own to those who have been made redundant and now must go freelance but with a stronger business mindset thanks to such a course – free of charge.

But it would seem government innovation incentives as they stand aren’t concrete or useful enough to make a meaningful difference.

Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, responded to the PM’s speech:

The Prime Minister started to lay out a vision for a new approach. But what we didn’t get today are the details of the measures to achieve it. Businesses are making investment decisions now and need to hear more on this agenda as soon as possible.

The cat’s out of the bag and no amount of sugarcoating in Tory speeches can hide the minimal incentives and support for small businesses and freelancers (combined they make up 90% of the private sector).

Groups, such as Forgotten Ltd., which emerged in the pandemic following the news that no or restricted support would be provided to limited company owners, are beating the drum alongside the media that the Conservative Party is no longer the party of business. Well, not small businesses anyway.

When the Daily Mail prints the headline: Tories soak the strivers then you know that sugar has well and truly melted and slipped away.

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