Welcome friends and colleagues to the SME4Labour Annual General Meeting.
As our first AGM in a few years, I’d like to thank you all in this room, for your continued support, kindness, and dedication to the SME4Labour.
With your help, we’ve been able to grow something from the ground up, facilitating connections with small businesses in a way that has never been done within Labour.
2023 is a promising year for SME4Labour. As I look around the room, I see members who are dedicated on delivering a Labour government and delivering for SME’s.
When we founded SME4Labour five years ago, our mission was simple: to bring the voices of small, medium, owner, and family-run businesses to the heart of the Labour Party.
Under Sir Keir Starmer, SMEs are being heard loud and clear.
Our story is the collective story of SME owners in every corner of the UK, regardless of background – it is the story of hard work and sacrifice.
But as we know all too well across our country, years of tory spending cuts and a complete disregard to local communities, has meant the opportunities we had as small business owners, have not been afforded to the next generation.
That’s why we founded SME4Labour, to speak up for small businesses affected by the tory government, and to fight to ensure that Labour are firmly behind them.
SMEs are the backbone of many of our communities; embedded on our highstreets, our town squares and in our day to day lives.
Simply, you can’t have economic growth without SMEs.
Around this room, we know that, and that’s why it’s essential that we continue our hard work in reaching into that community and bringing them with us on our journey towards government.
It is labour that is the home of entrepreneurs, investors, and businesspeople – let’s not shy away from that.
The fact is that in two short years Labour has moved from being the Opposition to being the Alternative is in part because we’ve become the viable and credible alternative to a failing tory government; bereft of ideas.
After years of economic under-delivery from the Tories, many SMEs are once again looking to Labour as the party to get the country back on track. But to win, and hold that support, Labour needs a solid offer on skills, business rate reform, and green growth.
From my own business, I’ve seen how apprenticeships deliver productivity gains and can significantly advance social mobility.
Recent research from the Chartered Management Institute finds that over 70% of management apprentices come from families where neither parent went to university, giving many of those who missed out on that chance when they left school the opportunity to not only access education, but to earn while they learn.
A positive reform agenda from Labour can help reduce bureaucracy and streamline processes, making it easier for SMEs to invest in the next generation of workers, managers, and leaders.
Ending the broken system of business rates will also level the playing field for SMEs. Despite 12 years in power, seven chancellors, and soaring lockdown revenues for online retailers such as Amazon, this government has still stepped back from the changes needed to give smaller firms a fighting chance. Today, we need Labour to deliver a new business taxation system fit for the 21st century.
Finally, SMEs need a slice of the pie on the party’s flagship agenda, green growth. The green revolution will bring new jobs, market opportunities, and export opportunities. Many SMEs are already leading the way in sustainability, cutting down on emissions, offering local options, and adapting to meet consumers’ needs. As we seek to meet 2050 net zero targets, Labour must ensure that SMEs aren’t left behind in the green economy transition.
2022 was a very busy year for SME4Labour. We had 34 fringe events and receptions at the party conference. More events than any other group present at the conference.
We had the 1200 people at our annual gala dinner with Keir, Angela, David Evans and almost all other Shadow cabinet members and most of our MP’s present. Our Gala dinner is now the biggest Labour gathering outside the conference.
We are earning the trust back of SMEs, who have been left in the wilderness by our government.
That’s where we need to make sure our work this year is key in solidifying policy for SMEs, working to not only protect them as important symbols of our communities, but push them to achieve new things.
Our offer to Small and Medium Businesses will be curated by people in this room: we need to push to:
· Reform of business rates.
· Offer easier access to finance to help SME’s businesses grow.
· Deliver tougher action on late payments.
· Make sure that there is an access across Britain to talent and skills.
· Continue our drive to invest in green technologies, working with SMEs to achieve this.
· Deliver a public transport system which works for every part of the UK, leaving no community behind.
This will be achieved through roundtable discussions with SMEs and with our shadow cabinet. With our bi-monthly policy debates, we will listen to business owners, and embed them in every possible aspect of the Labour Party.
While media attention has focused on Labour’s drive to attract and engage with large businesses and industry, Labour is also becoming the party of those 5.8 million SME owners, with their voices clearly being heard. As we look to the next election, Sir Keir and his team have an opportunity to show these businesses that they have a serious offer.
This year will be crucial in solidifying a Labour Election victory, and with your help, we can achieve that.