This article was first published on Labour List on 28 March 2014.
This might seem like quite a niche market, and in any one country it is. But AbCam CEO Jonathan Milner has built a business worth over £640 million supplying scientific researchers, employing 700 people in 25 different countries.
AbCam started when two people – Jonathan, then an academic researcher, and David Cleevely, an entrepreneur – got chatting at a party in the late 1990s. Jonathan remortgaged his house to get them going. At a sticky point, David had to liquidate his pension to keep them alive. But they survived. And, in time, they have thrived.
AbCam’s story is an inspiring tale of people who saw an opportunity and built a phenomenal business. If we are going to succeed as a nation we need more firms like AbCam, thriving in export markets and creating good jobs at home. This is how we will fulfil Labour’s vision of a high-productivity, high-skilled, innovation-led economy. It is an economy offering people security as well as opportunity – a ladder up and a chance to make the most of their potential.
Agenda 2030 is Labour’s long-term plan to earn and grow our way to a higher standard of living for all – through growth which is better balanced across regions and sectors, based on the talents of all. At its heart is the belief that we can’t fulfil our potential as a nation if we limit the potential of too many of our people. Just as we need a national mission to train the next generation of apprentices, so we must provide the platform to release the entrepreneur in us all.
This starts with understanding our mutual dependence: that we achieve more together than we can alone. Nowhere is that more true than in creating the conditions for successful entrepreneurship.
From Silicon Valley in California to the Cambridge cluster – Silicon Fen – it is from a community of entrepreneurs that success is bred.
This ‘de-risks’ entrepreneurship and makes it more likely that those with good ideas will succeed. Our national challenge is to ‘de-risk’ entrepreneurship for all, creating the platform for broad-based success. This means ensuring that the support is available, that markets in key services like banking and energy operate fairly, and that consumer markets are open to all.
Of course, not everyone wants to run a Shoreditch startup or become the next AbCam. There are many types of smaller business – from high growth firms like AbCam to the sole trader, the high-street business and the supplier to larger companies. But every business wants to succeed on its own terms, and this success is vital to sustaining broad based, vibrant local and regional economies. That is why Labour will offer real, practical help to those running small businesses – on business rates, energy costs, access to finance, skills and late payment.
Today, in a keynote speech to the Federation of Small Businesses, Ed Miliband will set out how Labour will stand on the side of small businesses and give them the support they need. Britain’s economic future depends on small businesses and the self-employed succeeding. He will say these dynamos of Britain’s economy are being held back by the worst cost-of-living crisis for a century, an old economy that fails small firms, and neglect by government.
Take business rates. Under David Cameron small companies have been hit by business rate rises of £1,500 on average. A Labour Government will cut then freeze business rates for 1.5 million small business properties, paid for by not going ahead with the planned cut in corporation tax. Energy is one of the highest costs small businesses pay. In Government, Labour would freeze energy prices until 2017, saving small businesses over £5,000. And we’ll reform the broken energy market which is not working for business.
Small businesses consistently rank access to finance as their biggest barrier to growth. Just four banks control 85 per cent of small business lending. That’s not enough competition and so Labour will act. We will ask the Competition and Markets Authority to report within six months on how to create at least two new sizable and competitive banks to challenge the existing high street banks, and to set a threshold for the market share any one bank can have of personal accounts and small business lending to prevent the market becoming concentrated again.
As well as more competition within banking, it is why we also welcome new competition to banking, from alternative sources like peer-to-peer lenders. Only Labour is committed to making a lasting change by creating a British Investment Bank, along with a network of local and regional business banks with a responsibility to boost lending in their area.
It vital for businesses that young people have the right skills for the world of work when they leave education. Under Labour everyone will study maths and English to 18. We’ll establish a Gold Standard Technical Baccalaureate for 16 to 19 year-olds. This includes rigorous, stretching and labour-market responsive vocational qualifications for the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ who don’t go to university and skills, character building and workplace learning for all. We will also dramatically increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships, putting skills funding, standards and responsibility in the hands of business.
We will be uncompromising in challenging ‘blue tape’ – unnecessary obstacles to business success imposed by other businesses. It is a scandal that too many small businesses find themselves bankrolling larger businesses that refuse to pay on time – to the tune of an estimated £30bn. Labour will ensure government sets the best example, and will get tough on late payers in the private sector. We will look at how prompt payment can be incentivised and whether the statutory timeframe for payment can be shortened.
We will bring this focused support for small businesses together through the establishment of a new Small Business Administration (SBA). Modelled on the successful SBA in the US, the UK SBA will improve the support available, identify opportunities and remove blockages to business growth, ensuring the voices of small businesses and entrepreneurs are better heard in policymaking. It will ensure that small businesses get a look in on procurement opportunities and key innovation contracts. It will gather information on how departments can benefit from working more closely with innovative small businesses and enable them to thrive, as part of a wider industrial strategy.
To succeed as a nation, we need to give everyone the platform to succeed. We need to release the entrepreneur in us all. The next Labour Government will deliver real, practical support to small businesses, so that we can earn and grow our way to a higher standard of living for all.