How Labour councils are backing small businesses

The party's councillors are demonstrating the results that an active government strategy can achieve for business, jobs and growth.

While the Labour Party is out of office nationally, there is still much we can do to support Britain’s small businesses, and we take this responsibility very seriously.

Across the country, Labour councils and councillors are often the first point of access for small businesses seeking support. There are nearly 650,000 businesses active in areas covered by Labour authorities and this figure is set to grow as we seek to win control of more councils this May.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, with nearly 90 per cent of people moving from unemployment into employment doing so through a small business. If we help these businesses to survive and thrive we will be taking a huge step towards tackling the unemployment crises as well.

In his first conference speech as leader, Ed Miliband expressed his determination for Labour to become the party of small business for just these reasons. We want to see more people setting up and working in business and believe that they reflect our values as the engines of social mobility and challengers of the status quo.

Labour councils across the country are playing a huge role in demonstrating how the next One Nation Labour government will champion and support small businesses and encourage growth in every area.

This is why I have recently published a report - Labour Councils: Backing Business - showcasing some of this excellent and innovative work. The report was produced in association with the Labour Group on the Local Government Association and features a report from every region of England and Wales, including ones by unitary, district and second tier authorities. This builds on last year’s launch of the Labour Councillors Business Network – bringing together Labour councillors from across the country to share ideas, disseminate best practice and develop new thinking.

Nationally, Labour are looking at how government can use procurement smartly to deliver for British business. When one in every seven pounds of GDP is spent by government it is the largest lever we can pull to support UK firms. The report demonstrates how Labour councils are already pulling this lever locally.

Vale of Glamorgan and Merthyr Tydfil Councils describe how they have developed a smartphone app to alert local small businesses to new tenders and explain the process to them and City of Manchester Council explain how they have re-written their tender guidelines to boost local jobs and businesses and developed a website portal for local businesses to use.

Small businesses often tell me that it is hard to find young people with the skills they need and the Labour Small Business Taskforce is looking at how we can equip people leaving education with these skills. These examples show how constructive partnerships between local authorities and businesses can help to deliver this.

Reading Council describe how they secured funding from the O2 Future Fund to develop a "one-stop shop" smart phone app and related social media tools to match the right young people with the right businesses. Stoke-on-Trent’s JET scheme is also highlighted. This connects businesses and unemployed people and continues to support both parties once they have been placed together. Plymouth Council also describe the success of their 1000 Club which encouraged 1,000 local companies to employ a local young person each. Partnership between councils and business can also have many other positive results.

Durham County Council describes how it persuaded Hitachi, a large local employer, to incorporate local small businesses into the local supply chain. Kirklees Council sets out its Innovation Voucher Scheme which offers local businesses grants to improve their efficiency and has lead to rapid growth amongst local firms and the highest rate of private-sector job creation in the West Midlands. The London Borough of Merton reports on how it secured funding from a new major supermarket arriving in the area for shop improvement grants for smaller neighbouring shops.

The report also highlights the importance of having a clear vision and brand to attract inward investment, with Stevenage Borough Council describing how their inward investment campaign “Where Imagination Takes Hold” reached a television audience of six million people. Nottingham City Council also describes how it established an effective cluster of businesses in the new technology sector, called the “Creative Quarter”. This is now a rapidly growing small business hub.

These reports, along with further short contributions from over twenty other Labour councils in the pamphlet, are fantastic evidence of the results that an active government strategy can achieve for business, jobs and growth. They represent a gold mine of ideas for other councils across the country and will also help Labour groups seeking to win office to develop strong manifestos with sound business policies.

Toby Perkins is Labour MP for Chesterfield and shadow minister for small business

Toby Perkins is Labour MP for Chesterfield and shadow minister for small business

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.