Spearheaded by The Entrepreneurs Network, 66 business leaders and experts have signed an open letter suggesting polices that could safeguard the future of British startups
In order to woo voters ahead of Thursday’s general election, the major parties have released manifestos outlining their visions for the UK. But it seems the startup community feels more can be done to support British business. The Entrepreneurs Network, the thinktank for entrepreneurs, has published an open letter to the next prime minister outlining some ideas.
The letter has been signed by 66 heavy-hitters from the startup scene, including Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, the organisation supporting the capital’s tech sector; Husayn Kassai, co-founder of Onfido, the background check company; Marta Krupińska, co-founder of Azimo, the moneytransfer company; and Jeff Lynn, CEO at Seedrs, the equity crowdfunding portal.
Highlighting the vital role that entrepreneurs play in the UK, the letter points to a range of actionable policy suggestions that are outlined in an accompanying report. It says the policies “could be implemented immediately to create a culture of entrepreneurship and boost the prospects of businesses across the UK”. If put into practice, they would address some of the business community’s key concerns, including the tax system, procurement and adopting new technology.
Unsurprisingly, helping startups attract and hire talent is a key focus. The report features ideas like reforming the current entrepreneurs visa system to attract ambitious founders and nurturing the talent pipeline by giving higher-level apprentices income-contingent loans for training. What's more, it highlights the need to continue addressing the country's digital skills gap.
The report also points out that it's not just a matter of rolling out new initiatives: the next government needs to make sure that businesses actually know they exist too. While the past decade has seen the government provide increasing support for SMEs, a report from the Institute of Directors, the organisation supporting business leaders, has revealed that only 30% of business leaders are aware of what support the government provides. The Entrepreneurs Network report says that raising awareness of existing schemes should be on the next prime minister's agenda. For instance, Whitehall departments could include information on government schemes along with any HMRC correspondence they have with businesses.
And addressing Britain’s future as a hotbed of technological innovation, the signatories recommend that a secretary of state for digital is appointed to ensure tech is at the heart of the government’s agenda. On their to-do list should be urging the government to deliver a robust regulatory framework that also fosters innovative and disruptive technologies. The Entrepreneurs Network is also imploring the government to incentivise SMEs to invest in digital tools by offering them tax credits.
Another area of concern is the fact that the UK has fallen to 16th place in the latest International Tax Competitiveness Index. And while The Entrepreneurs Network would rather see a major overhaul of the current system, it recognises that this may be difficult to achieve while negotiations between the EU and the UK are ongoing. In the meantime, the signatories suggest that the government freezes the premium tax and commits to an independent inquiry into business rates.
Commenting on the letter, Philip Salter, founder of The Entrepreneurs Network, said that it “demonstrates the wealth of great ideas experts have to make Britain more competitive” and that it wasn’t “meant to be the final word in policies to support entrepreneurs but the start of nationwide conversation about what businesses really need to succeed”.
Given the influential names behind the open letter, whoever wakes up with the keys to Number 10 on Friday should consider the suggestions seriously.