Front door of Number 10 Downing Street.
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Billy Wood

General Election 2017: London businesses tell us what's on their mind as they head to the ballot box

It is fair to say that we’ve come a long way in the little under six weeks since Theresa May called the snap election that was never meant to be on the steps of Downing Street.

It is also fair to say that the campaign hasn’t quite panned out how Ms. May had presumably planned. An unwillingness to face voters on their own terms, another embarrassing u-turn and a wafer thin manifesto light on detail, have combined with a modestly resurgent Labour Party to chip away at an opinion poll lead that seemed pretty much assailable a month and a half ago.

On offer from both of the main parties are two radically different visions about how Britain should be run (well, except for Brexit), with voters being charged with perhaps their starkest choice in a generation. All given added urgency in light of tragic events in Manchester and the capital in recent weeks.

But what do London’s business leaders make of it all? We’ve asked a cross-section to give us their views on the main issues and what they are most looking out for from the new government from 9 June onwards.

Brexit (what else?)

Stuart Lucas, Co-CEO of share trading platform Asset Match

“There’s no downplaying the significance of this week’s General Election. Not only will we be electing a government responsible for managing Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, they will also be responsible for forging our post-Brexit identity.

“It’s no secret that British SMEs are globally renowned for their innovative capabilities and long-term growth potential. Despite this, SMEs are still struggling to scale, with access to finance cited as a key reason why.

“Since 2015, the UK’s tax-efficient investment initiatives such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) have been subject to EU State Aid regulations, restricting the number of investors and scale-up companies that are able to access these schemes.

“With recent HMRC figures revealing that EIS has raised £15.9 billion of funds for over 26,000 companies since its launch in 1993/94, the next elected government has the opportunity to review and reform these schemes which have been a significant catalyst for private sector growth.”

Tarlochan Garcha, CEO of peer-to-peer lender Kuflink

“At times of immense political and economic transition, investors are eagerly waiting to see which party will emerge victorious. Our recent survey of 1,100 UK investors found that 38% are awaiting the outcome of Thursday’s election before making any notable financial decisions, and a further 34% believe Brexit has impacted their investment decisions more than any other event in their lifetime.

“With Brexit negotiations kicking off 11 days after the General Election, a significant responsibility lies with the next government to ensure investors are supported in fulfilling their long-term financial strategies.

“This is particularly relevant for the property market, with UK investors increasingly turning to traditional brick and mortar investments at this time of transformation and change. Investors are seeking clarity and direction on Brexit negotiations and beyond, and this must be high on the agenda for the next government.”

Gender equality

Tim Allsopp from communications training company Turn of Phrase

“While the Conservative manifesto has put forward the idea of naming and shaming companies by publishing pay information (which we support) a Conservative government would do little in reality to help improve conditions for women in the workplace.

“It has failed to support social care adequately, a sector which is largely run by a female workforce, many on zero hours contracts. It has also failed to provide adequate childcare to support women returning to work. With a career break for motherhood doing much to damage the pay and career prospects of women in their thirties and forties, we need more innovative and structural change to combat gender inequality.

“We need mentor schemes, we need better support systems at work, including flexible free childcare. We need flexible working hours and working environments while also addressing issues of unconscious bias. The Conservative pledge lacks real substance for effective change.”

Brexit and FinTech

Gary Turner UK Managing Director at accounting software firm Xero

“London’s title as ‘fintech’s capital’ is under threat because of Brexit – TransferWise’s founder spoke out only recently to warn startups about setting up in post-Brexit London, a stark reminder of the effect uncertainty is having on all business sectors.

“The UK must fight to keep its title as the Fintech leader as cities like Seoul and Singapore take advantage of this instability to grow their offering, but to do this, we need secure and stable leadership. The tech industry has called for a post-Brexit style visa to help combat the potential skills crisis that Brexit may cause, but immigration controls promised as part of the EU referendum are a huge obstacle here.

“Westminster has been in turmoil since the referendum results were announced, and more political certainty is desperately needed to help guide the country through the next few years and ensure the UK does not lose its title for any industry. For this reason a general election is welcomed, as a strong, united political front brought to Brexit negotiations has to be a good thing.”

Startup funding

Jerry Brand, The Brand Foundation

“Election fever has begun but what should the next Government be considering in relation to the lifeblood of the future economy - the startup?

“We all know startups are the backbone of the country, we’ve heard it plenty of times. But we need the elected Government to consider their importance right now and the impact these businesses could have on the future of this country. We need to be looking at the potential of seed capital and a UK Government support programme to find those ‘diamonds in the rough’ which will support the UKs new startups once election fever dies down and we press on with Brexit and strengthening the UK economy.

“An entrepreneur might have creativity, ideas and motivation to push forward with a new business but with a lack of experience, leadership, management skills and cash flow, are they setting up to fall at the first hurdle? Probably, and that is why greater recognition and support is needed for entrepreneurs and new businesses in this country.

“I would like to see a firm indication that the elected Government intends to better support start up businesses to help remove those potential weaknesses.”

Will Broome, Ubamarket CEO

“This week’s General Election comes at a critical moment for the UK tech sector ahead of formative Brexit negotiations. Following a series of new investments made in the Government’s Autumn Statement and Spring Budget – in 5G, R&D and full fibre broadband – the sector remains optimistic about the UK’s future as a global tech hub.

“However the next government must be committed to supporting the fundamentals of talent access, infrastructure and investment if the nation’s global status is to be maintained.

“At Ubamarket we have recently entered an exciting new stage of product innovation. Critical to this has been the accessibility of growth finance invested in start-ups by private investors.

“From our experience, it is also clear that the Government must prioritise support for private investors seeking to support SMEs, thereby expanding the funding options available to the nation’s entrepreneurs.”

Broadband and digital connectivity

Dave Millett of independent brokerage and consultancy firm Equinox

“Given recent reports on how badly the UK lags other countries on the availability of Fibre to The Premise broadband (the UK has 2% availability) and that we rank 54th in the world for 4G – it is disappointing how unambitious the parties are to remedy the situation.

“They talk about the importance of a digital economy and need to attract businesses but none have set out a credible costed proposal for the fast rollout of FTTP or 5G, technologies.

“Of the two parties that stand a chance of being in Government Labour still has a focus of standard superfast broadband with universal availability by 2022 but no dates on 5G. They do instruct the National Infrastructure Commission to report on how to roll out ultrafast’ 300bps by 2027. But there is no comment on the cost or how it is to be funded.

“The Conservatives put a figure on the investments they will make – ie £740m but that has been previously mentioned. They are saying 2020 for universal access to superfast broadband and a target of around 40% coverage for FTTP by 2027. A figure Lithuania has already reached. They will bring back fibre vouchers for businesses – I hope that it is better thought through than the last scheme which was widely abused.

“They are similarly unambitious with 5G in that they plan to have the majority of the population covered by a 5G signal by 2027. Japan and South Korea are planning to launch their 5G services in 2020.”

Innovation and the entrepreneurial economy

Ben Stoneham, Chief Executive at software firm autologyx

“The UK under the Tory government has been one of the best places to be an entrepreneur over the past few years. The favourable corporate tax environment and the huge amount of natural talent have combined to make the UK one of the best places for tech companies to flourish.

“Entrepreneurs have been able to take more risks confidently in the pursuit of growth – being able to take this approach has been a key part of my own success building and exiting one business and then setting up another.

“In my opinion, a Corbyn led government would see business confidence diminish significantly. For me, their manifesto doesn’t go far enough in offering investment to support innovation within UK Business and without this, UK Business could struggle post-Brexit.”

The Scaleup agenda (or lack thereof)

Luke Davis, CEO of IW Capital

“During the election campaign, scale-up businesses have not featured particularly highly on the agenda for any of the major political parties. This is disappointing given the role of UK SMEs as the driving force behind private sector growth, a community that makes up 99% of private companies and 80% of all private sector employment.

“It is critical that the elected Government on 8 June introduces a modern industrial strategy that directly addresses the needs of British entrepreneurs and creates a business environment that supports innovation, productivity and long-term growth. Most importantly, this strategy must look beyond the two-year Brexit negotiation period and fortify Britain’s position on the global stage as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurial talent post-Brexit.”

Housing

Paresh Raja, CEO of MFS

“It was promising to see housing feature prominently across the election manifestos of all major political parties. With market demand significantly outweighing supply, Labour and the Conservatives have committed to increasing the total amount of residential property market. However, there was a failure to recognise the positive role that investors can play.

“Over the past couple of years, buy-to-let property investors have been affected by a raft of changes to stamp duty and mortgage interest tax relief. I am concerned that these new measures are dissuading property investors from expanding their portfolio, while undermining the dynamism of the property market at this pivotal time of transition for the British economy.

“The Government elected this Thursday must recognise the vital role that property investors play in contributing to the UK housing supply and supporting market growth. There are many exciting opportunities on offer across the UK, and it is important for the next government to ensure investors are able to access them, thereby catalysing market growth and propelling the UK economy forward.”

Fareed Nabir, Chief Executive Officer at apartment rental agency LetBritain

“Over recent years, demand for UK homes has continued to reach record highs in particular the rental market is facing considerable strain as the market becomes less affordable and mortgages become inaccessible for many. Representing an increasingly significant portion of the country’s home occupancies, one in five (20%) of UK households currently lie within the private rental sector, while an additional 1.8 million households are expected to become privately rented by 2025.

“As private tenancies become an increasingly popular and essential option for people across the UK, greater focus is needed from government to ensure a seamless transition of rights of occupancy between landlords and tenants. In this effort greater statutory protection for landlords facing a fast-paced and demanding market will be critical to the provision of more homes.”

NHS struggles

Hitesh Dodhia, Pharmacy Outlet CEO

“Aside from Brexit, one of the central issues at this election has been the pressures facing the NHS. With the average waiting time for GP surgeries currently standing at 13 days, and expected to rise to an alarming three weeks, the British public is understandably been concerned by the accessibility of healthcare, treatment and medication.

“For the next government, exploring all possible avenues to reducing the burden on the nation’s health service must be a key priority. In this effort, online pharmacies can play a critical role by reducing the pressure on GPs and doctors by making medication and over the counter prescriptions far more accessible to the sick and immobile.”

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