Liz or Rishi, here's what entrepreneurs want from the next PM
The battle to be the leader of the Conservative Party and, by extension, the next Prime Minister is in its final stages. A once large and unwieldy pool of candidates has been whittled down to former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. To date, Conservative Party members of parliament have done the voting, but the final choice will be made by 180,000+ party members across the nation.
Amidst the worst cost of living crisis in decades, looming energy shortages, and sluggish growth, it’s hardly surprising that the economy has taken centre stage in the candidates’ messaging. But do their plans – broadly defined by tax cuts on the part of Truss and pragmatism from Sunak – match what entrepreneurs are hoping for?
It’s an important question because it’s those entrepreneurs who can serve as engines for economic growth and innovation. Members of Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO), a global association of more than 15,000 entrepreneurs have weighed in with their opinions. Each member has a business turning over a minimum of US$1 million in annual revenue. Diverse in gender and ethnicity, as well as industries represented, the EO London chapter provides an insight into what business owners want from the next Prime Minister.
1. Better relations with Europe
One of the things that characterised Boris Johnson’s premiership was an increasingly acrimonious relationship with Europe and the European Union in particular. While support for Brexit remains a Tory shibboleth, EO members would like to see Truss or Sunak try and foster more positive relationships with the continent.
“I would prefer we rejoined the single market,” says Robert Wilcocks, Managing Director of wealth management firm Wilcocks & Wilcocks and EO London Chapter member. “Brexit has been a disaster for many industries.”
He is, however, aware that this is highly unlikely, given that Sunak has promised to revisit 2,400 remaining EU laws on the UK statute book and Truss’ conversion from Remainer to ardent Brexiteer.
Other EO members believe that there is still much that could be done to repair the UK’s relationship with Europe.
“The number one thing for the UK economy and entrepreneurs is reducing trade friction with Europe,” says Andy Clayton - Founder of business coaching company Scale and EO London Chapter Board Member. “Even outside of the EU, there is a lot that can be done to stop the rot that is undermining so many UK businesses, making it hard for us to trade with Europe, such as customs regulations and requirements of European offices and licenses.”
For Aidan Fitzpatrick, Founder & CEO of software company Reincubate and EO London Chapter member, it’s about realising that post-Brexit trade deals need to be about more than physical goods.
“A lot of trade deals and post-Brexit focus have centred around the trade of physical goods,” he says. “It's important to ensure software (and service) businesses aren't forgotten. It's probably less about removing existing barriers (as mercifully there are relatively few for a tech business) but about ensuring new ones aren't added in by accident.”
2. Making it easier to build (and bring in) skills
Another common desire among many EO members is for the next PM to make it easier to both build and bring in new skills. That’s understandable, given the skills shortage affecting many UK industries.
For Yash Dubal, Managing Director of A Y & J Solicitors and EO London Chapter member, that means reducing the waiting time for work visa allocations and reviewing the shortage occupation list to make it easier to bring in overseas workers.
“Certain sectors, particularly travel and hospitality, are struggling with acute labour shortages,” he says. “These could be eased if certain roles were added to the shortage occupation list, which would make it easier for employees to find staff from overseas.”
Aingaran Pillai, CEO and Founder of digital services firm Zaizi and EO London Chapter member, would like to see more support for building up skills domestically.
“I’d like to see more grants and investments given to companies that are willing to retrain and skill up staff, thus increasing productivity,” he says. “The apprenticeship levy is great and we use it. In fact, we've maxed ours out.”
Pillai would also like to see a simplification in the process of getting new skills certified so that they can be funded.
3. Facilitating the investment path in the UK
Finally, while they have different approaches to it, entrepreneurs would also like to see the next PM make it easier for them to invest in and build their businesses.
“I’d like to see changes to the procurement laws to prioritise UK businesses to win work and skill up local staff and increase productivity,” says Pillai. “I’d also like an increase to the £1 million lifetime limit of business asset disposal relief, to encourage entrepreneurs to re-invest and build startups here. At the moment, my next startup won't be in the UK.”
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, would like to see improvements to the available funding models.
“There's a good structure in place for grant funding via Innovate UK but there's more to do around streamlining, simplification and speeding up the grant funding process,” he says My company, Reincubate, is very heavy on R&D and this would help us invest more in pioneering innovative technology.”
Creating an enabling an environment
It’s clear then that while UK entrepreneurs have a desire to build and grow their businesses, they need an enabling environment to do so. In September, once the party election is over, a new Prime Minister will have the chance to do exactly that. In the search for policies that allow for this, they would do well to heed the wishes of the entrepreneurs who could accelerate the UK into a new phase of sustained growth and prosperity.