Election season in England is well under way, with the usual clamour of the mainstream parties to differentiate themselves from each other through their policies.
The usual key issues will be much discussed, including the economy, and for our clients – how the election may affect your business.
This election however, the topic of the health of the SME landscape will feature more prominently than in previous elections, owing to the fact that SMEs have played a crucial role in the economy’s recovery.
Headline grabbing statements from both David Cameron and Ed Miliband over their plans to further boost the SME scene allude to this, but as business leaders look ahead to the next five years, what are the key issues they are looking to be addressed?
How it looks
SMEs have never had it so good; through the support of government funding initiatives, such as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee, Business Finance Partnership, and the National Loan Guarantee Scheme, the government has shown its commitment to ensuring the SME scene is in rude health.
Another prominent example of this, is the government-led growth accelerator programme, giving SMEs access to a large network of mentoring and support, and linking business owners with industry pioneers. This is truly a great time to be a small business owner.
What the election holds
The aforementioned government schemes underlines how crucial SMEs are to the overall well-being of the economy.
Hence, it is clear to see why party leaders are lending such importance to the subject, and why business owners are keeping a very close eye on their policies.
In such an auspicious environment for SMEs, any change to this will be met with obvious scepticism.
Economic policies have traditionally been a strong point for the Conservatives, so expect David Cameron and co. to play up to this in the coming debates and speeches.
Labour, on the other hand, are perceived not to have the best of track records when it comes to the economy, and especially the interests of SMEs.
With this very much in mind, expect to hear a lot on their plans to do away with the prohibitive local rates that currently hold back SMEs.
Like most issues in this election, the scope for Labour to gain traction is the demand for change by the British public.
With a mixed approval rating, the current government will be hoping this demand for change will not fuel the success of the ‘challenger brands’ such as UKIP and the Green Party, who are rapidly gaining support.
The key question for voters is, do they have the know-how and experience to keep their promises?
Braving the unknown
The economic policies from both parties will definitely give business owners hope, but there are still many questions to be answered, including their stances on immigration restrictions, and the national minimum wage.
Both of these subjects are absolutely vital in the planning stages of SMEs, and hence, party leaders need to show where they stand on these issues.
The imbalance between SMEs in urban and rural areas is another key issue that faces the next government, with the current government seemingly overlooking this issue.
The digitally savvy start up community in commercial hubs are promoted as the beacon for the future for SMEs, meaning they enjoy the limelight, and the perks of the digital economy (including most of the money saved by the digitisation of public services).
Despite this, many from the SME community outside of the cities, incline towards thinking that the government’s continual insistence on ‘digital by default’, mean that they are unable to truly reap the benefits starting a business in the digital age.
Policy makers may be keen to embrace the digitally inclined start up scene, but must still address the issues facing ‘offline’ SMEs outside of the large commercial hubs.
What lies in store
With no clear cut outcome to this election, business owners will be forgiven to be a little apprehensive at the prospective changes facing them.
One positive is that policies directly affecting SMEs seem to have taken a prominent role in shaping this election.
The last five years has seen tremendous growth in the SME scene, aided by the digitisation of the current landscape.
The current coalition government can (and will) point out scores of triumphs in the SME scene, that have made the most out of this process. Whether that is due to the economic policies, or digital services making success easier to come by, remains to be seen.
Are our current leaders pointing out these successes to mask over crucial issues such as the ‘two speed’ digital economy?
With polling day rapidly approaching, party leaders have a real opportunity to let their solutions to these problems be known, and with that, maybe change the course of who will be in charge of this country for the next five years.