I would like to welcome you all to this annual gala dinner for SME4Labour, fast becoming a firm favourite in the Labour calendar.
We are here to celebrate the contribution made by small and medium enterprises, and freelancers and the self-employed.
And we want to ensure that the Labour Party develops the policies which will help SMEs prosper and grow.
We have fantastic support from the Labour shadow teams. Looking around the room I can see John McDonnell…Angela Rayner…Dawn Butler….the party general secretary Jennie Formby…and many other colleagues from Parliament.
As you saw in the video, it’s been a busy year for us.
Conference. Seminars. Debates. Receptions. We’ve held fantastic events all year.
So thanks to our executive committee members, our members and supporters.
This year, as you know, has been dominated by discussions about Brexit.
Freedom of movement, or the customs union, or the single market, the national conversation has been largely conducted at the level of macro-economics, and geopolitics.
Big sweeping themes about the future of our nation, and our nation’s place in the global economy.
But it is vital that the voice of small and medium enterprise is not lost amidst all the noise.
Thanks to Bill Esterson the shadow small business minister, Rebecca Long-Bailey the shadow BEIS secretary, and John McDonnell the shadow chancellor, the importance of SMEs have not been drowned out in our debates. And in London, we’ve had real support from Sadiq Khan our brilliant London Mayor.
I don’t need to tell this audience how vital SMEs are to the British economy: In 2017, there were 5.7 million businesses in the UK. Of these, 99% are SMEs, employing fewer than 250 people. And amazingly, 96% of British businesses are micro-businesses, employing fewer than nine people. Total employment in SMEs was 16.3 million; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK. The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £2.0 trillion, 52% of all private sector turnover.
So it is SMEs which are creating the jobs, generating the wealth, and providing the goods and services that keep Britain going.
And unlike some of the transnational companies that operate in the UK, SMEs pay their taxes and behave like good citizens.
There was a time when it was regarded as axiomatic that the Tories were the party of small and medium enterprises.
Mrs Thatcher famously learned her economics in her father’s grocers’ shop. They used to say Labour was compassionate but incompetent. And the Tories were cruel but competent.
But not any more.
Now we know Labour can be compassionate and run the economy.
And the Tories?
Bedroom tax? Universal Credit? Brexit?
Well, now the world can see the Tories are cruel and incompetent.
The Tories have left SMEs behind, ignoring their needs.
That’s why SME4Labour was founded, because we knew so many SME owners and entrepreneurs who share Labour values, and want to see a Labour Government.
Family-run businesses which care about their community.
Businesses created by immigrants to the UK, who want to be model citizens.
Businesses which generate local jobs and provide the glue which holds communities together.
So, of course, there should be strong ties between SMEs and the Labour Party, because our interests are aligned and we care about the same things.
I was honoured to be a Parliamentary candidate at the last general election, and the offer we made to SMEs was serious, thought-through, and it went down well with SME owners.
From regional investment banks to end late payments, we had the right policies, against the backdrop of public sector investment and infrastructure investment which would get the economy moving, all the way down the supply chain.
We have some really solid policies for SMEs:
• Reform government procurement to make sure that it supports good businesses and local industry.
• Re-introduce the small profit rate of corporation tax and commit to no quarterly reporting for businesses below the VAT threshold.
• Radically reform business rates to ease the burden on the traditional high street and town centres in an age of online shopping and to create a fairer system of business taxation for all.
• Take action on late payment to prevent the exploitation of small and medium-sized businesses to ensure every business, regardless of size has every opportunity to flourish.
I hope and trust that the next Labour manifesto will go even further to support SMEs.
We want tougher rules on late payment, cracking down on the cowboys and fraudsters.
We want a radical new approach to tax, not just closing the loopholes and ending avoidance, but looking at new models which match the new economy.
The fact is we have an analogue tax system for a digital economy and it must be radically reformed.
We need to protect workers’ rights in this new economy, especially those SMEs which employ only their owner.
The rise in sole traders, start-ups, and freelancers is welcome, but it creates a new kind of worker, without protection and without a workplace.
The economy is transforming before our eyes. Automation, Artificial Intelligence, 3-D printing, driverless vehicles – these things are not science fiction, they are real.
And our systems of law and our public institutions are playing catch-up.
We know the Conservative Party cannot equip our country for the future.
Only Labour can prepare us for what is to come.
SME4Labour is ready to play our part, reflecting the real, dynamic, innovative part of the economy.
And of course all of our fantastic activity has to be paid for, so we welcome our generous donors and financial supporters, and thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
And when it comes to the raffle, I hope you will buy lots of tickets for our fabulous prizes. Your generosity makes a real difference.
Next year – who knows what will happen?
The Tories warned us about a ‘Coalition of Chaos’ under Labour – but instead delivered a coalition of the chaos of their own.
They promised a strong and stable government and instead delivered a weak and wobbly government, with lame-duck prime minister May.
Perhaps there will be an election soon, and SME4Labour will be called upon once again to bring SMEs and Labour together in hundreds of constituencies.
Even if the Tories limp on, we will be active, developing the relationships and building the bridges we need between SMEs and Labour, and I hope you will join us.
Let me finish by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas,I hope Father Christmas brings you everything you want.
And the best present he could bring all of us is the Labour Government.