Insight & Analysis

Same again or time for change?

Published: Jun 2024

As the major political parties battle for the business vote, we look at what UK companies are looking for from this election.

UK flag in front of parliament building in London

It has become commonplace for the major political parties to seek public backing from the business community in advance of general elections. The Conservatives published a letter from more than 100 corporate leaders endorsing their campaign in 2015 and the Labour Party did likewise last month.

A survey conducted by the organisers of the British Business Excellence Awards last month illustrated the extent to which businesses are divided on which party is ‘best for business’.

Just over two-fifths of the 1,000 UK business owners with turnover between £500,000 and £6m said they would vote Labour, with 28.7% favouring the Liberal Democrats and 26.7% indicating they would vote Tory.

However, the same percentage that said they would vote Labour also thought Rishi Sunak would do a better job for British businesses, ahead of Kier Starmer (32.1%). Almost one fifth of survey respondents don’t feel any of the three main candidates would do a particularly good job.

When asked which policy change would help their company the most, the business owners said reversing Brexit would be the biggest benefit, well ahead of a reduction in either VAT or corporation tax.

Tony Hague is CEO of strategic manufacturing outsourcing specialist PP Control & Automation, which employs 230 people in the West Midlands.

“My pro-business measures would be further investment in apprenticeships and vocational training across all engineering sectors, sectors that are crying out for young talent,” he says. “Tax cuts or incentives in this area could work and we desperately need to revisit the apprenticeship levy and tweak it so that it works for all companies and not just a select few.”

The other measure Hague would like to see introduced is increased R&D support focused on the need for the UK to engage with robotics and automation to streamline operations and improve productivity.

“On current legislation, the first thing I would do is reduce corporation tax,” he says. “The increase is counterproductive and will simply sap the appetite of manufacturers looking to invest in new technology and people.”

If the next government is serious about meeting the UK’s net zero targets, the climate crisis must be central to everything it is doing. Investment and support must be shifted into energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, especially those that are manufactured in the UK and focused on heat decarbonisation.

That is the view of Christophe Williams, CEO of British-based solar technology developer Naked Energy, who says the UK has several businesses producing innovative renewable technology to help tackle this challenge who need long term planning security, a streamlined process for expansion, and incentives to expand their operations.

“However, we cannot seem to get a consistent policy in place that gives British renewable energy companies the chance to reach their potential,” he says. “In the past we have seen successful policies such as the public sector decarbonisation scheme and the renewable heat initiative. Unfortunately, these have been few and far between. Many schemes have been scrapped due to being unnecessarily complicated or as a result of influential lobbying groups.”

Companies face a period of intense policy and legislative change once a new government is formed and therefore a short window of time to understand likely policy priorities and support an incoming government to make and deliver robust policy change.

“To do that effectively requires an understanding of both commercial and regulatory issues but also the machinery of government and parliament, and the public law framework through which such changes are formulated and made,” explains Charles Brasted, partner at law firm Hogan Lovells.

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