You may be wondering why we believe this type of manifesto is needed. After all, we often hear that the UK’s economic recovery is due to the number of new businesses that are springing up. And the publicity around initiatives such as London’s Tech City often describes this as the best place in the world to set up a business.
But the need for practical policies is acute. Everybody claims to support entrepreneurs, but when they’re asked what we need to do to help them further, they can be short of ideas or even dismissive. Other concerns always seem to take precedence, especially when it comes to financial resources.
The real rewards of business success
It may be true that a successful business generates big rewards for the few people who set it up, but by far the biggest benefit goes to the wider economy, rather than the owners. Society at large profits from the jobs that are created, the taxes that are paid and the better products and services we can all take advantage of.
That is why TEN believes it is time to get behind entrepreneurial Britain and start making business a bigger priority. Without a national voice, it is too easy to think about individual businesses rather than entrepreneurship as a whole – and while a single successful business may be interesting, or even inspiring, it is never going to provide a template for developing public policy. If you want to find out what is really going on in entrepreneurial Britain, you can’t even look in a specific sector or geographical region. We need to be designing policies that will help growing businesses in workspaces, industrial parks, offices and innovation centres up and down the land.
That’s why, when TEN came up with the idea for this manifesto, it decided to take a step back and look at the broader issues, rather than concentrating on isolated success stories. We wanted to discuss the types of policies that would address the difficulties of establishing a business in Britain and make this a more supportive environment for entrepreneurs. In particular, we need to address the unique needs of those who are trying to set up businesses with high levels of growth potential and are prepared to shoulder the consequent risks.
A key theme in many of the papers that follow is the need for Britain to be more outward-looking. What can we do to improve our international links, within the EU and further afield? We outline a more flexible visa system for international graduates who want to be entrepreneurs, and we look at how we can benefit from growth in emerging markets.
Other contributors to An Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto focus on ensuring that our education system is designed to produce entrepreneurs – business already plays a role in providing education and we can build on this to create schools and colleges that really promote entrepreneurship and scientific innovation and give all our young people experience in business.
It is no surprise that taxation is a recurrent theme in the manifesto – the following pages contain suggestions for extending Entrepreneurs’ Relief, introducing business advice vouchers, providing tax relief for small businesses and reforming business rates. We believe the impact on jobs and economic growth would be massive.
Government has other roles too. It could make departmental procurement procedures more accessible for small and medium-sized businesses, perhaps with a kitemark system. And it needs to provide better leadership and clearer strategy – for instance, by encouraging older entrepreneurs, persuading larger companies to be more engaged with smaller businesses and ensuring that businesses of all sizes have access to the funding they need.
Supporting Britain’s businesses
I have been working as an investor for 20 years now and for most of that time I’ve focused on smaller companies. With two friends, all of us in our mid-20s, I helped set up Octopus Investments, which now has nearly 300 people and is one of the UK’s largest investors in small companies. Building something from scratch has been hard work and incredibly challenging at times. But it’s also been fascinating – we work closely with the many companies we invest in, and seeing people take ideas and turn them into something dynamic and flourishing is really addictive.
The insights I’ve gained from working with the companies Octopus has invested in were what made me jump at the chance of supporting TEN. Business success may be down to luck or skill, or a combination of the two. From the outside, it may look effortless, but it certainly isn’t. Every business has specific challenges and each one is vulnerable in its own way. But I’ve seen at first hand the tremendous difference that entrepreneurs can make in terms of creating jobs, and new products and services we can all benefit from.
So I’m delighted that An Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto has brought together so many positive ideas for supporting Britain’s businesses. Now that we’re starting the run-up to a general election, we need all the political parties to make sure their own manifestos address the needs of entrepreneurs to ensure that growing businesses across Britain can continue to help drive our economic prosperity.