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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.