Arguably the most crucial General Election in a generation is less than three months away, on May 7 to be precise.
Whilst the political drums are already beating noticeably faster to urge the opposing crews up to maximum ramming speed, there is the small matter of a Budget statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on March 18 – not only George Osborne’s last before the country goes to the polls, but possibly his last ever.
Whatever gleaming new policies the main parties reveal when the hangar doors finally roll back, one thing is clear – both Labour and the Conservatives are after the small business vote. Prime Minister David Cameron gave a glimpse of what is to come when he revealed to members of the British Chambers of Commerce last week that he wanted to create a ‘Help to Grow’ scheme for the most successful medium-sized UK companies – an idea he cheerfully admitted to pinching from the Germans with their ‘Mittelstand’ model. The Budget will evidently contain a pledge of £100m to finance a pilot scheme with more cash to follow.
Mr Cameron also talked of there being a £1 billion per annum funding gap for smaller businesses, which would be filled, either by State funds going in alongside private money, or by private money guaranteed by the State. The number of loans available through the Start-up Loan scheme each year will also increase from 25,000 to 75,000.
On the other side of the political divide, the Labour Party is promising to use an estimated £1 billion, raised by increasing licence fees from the mobile phones spectrum, to fund its new brainchild, the British Investment Bank. Alongside this, it was revealed that Simon Franks, the founder of LoveFilm, would be preparing a report on how best to help early stage and high growth businesses. The Party will be introducing cuts in Business Rates for 1.5 million smaller business properties and, post publication of the CMA's enquiry into banking, will be encouraging the creation of at least two new ‘Challenger Banks’.
Which brings us swiftly back into the world of RIGHT NOW and the Alternative Finance sector, which continues to move along very nicely – the revolution in the finance sector is alive, well and gathering momentum and is sure to feature more than once in the next 100 days.
The small business vote is going to be one of the major election battlegrounds. Mind how you use it.