Given entrepreneurs’ invaluable contribution to the UK economy, it’s little wonder our MPs take every chance they get to champion Blighty’s brilliant business leaders. However, despite the positive sentiments of our politicians towards the nation’s start-ups, their knowledge of the government schemes supporting entrepreneurs is sorely lacking. That’s the finding of 2015 Parliamentary Snapshot: MPs on Entrepreneurship, a new survey from The Entrepreneur’s Network conducted by YouGov and supported by law firm Bircham Dyson Bell.
Off the bat, one of the least surprising findings from the survey was that the two main parties were ideologically split when it came to tax, regulation and increased government spending. For example, 89% of Conservative MPs supported the lowering of business tax, compared to just 48% of Labour MPs. But 63% of Labour MPs supported more spending on government grants and loans; which was the least popular policy among their Conservative counterparts, 36% of whom thought it would have a positive impact on entrepreneurial activity.
Yet it was the UK’s membership of the EU that brought the biggest divide between the two parties. With the referendum due to take place before 2017, the survey found that 58% of Conservative MPs think withdrawing from the EU would be positive for entrepreneurs while 95% of Labour MPs said it would have the opposite effect. That’s not to say there were no areas of agreement though: for example, spending more skills on the domestic workforce was supported by 85% of Conservative MPs and 93% of Labour MPs. And making it easier for entrepreneurs to move to the UK got the backing of 80% of Conservative MPs and 66% of Labour MPs.
Regrettably, this outward support for entrepreneurs is undermined by MPs’ knowledge gaps on policies that already exist. For example, 38% of Conservative MPs hadn’t heard of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), with 18% admitting they didn’t have enough knowledge of it to know whether or not it’s effective. And a further 34% admitted they’d never heard of Entrepreneurs’ Relief, which lets entrepreneurs pay less capital gains tax when selling their business. Elsewhere, the majority of MPs from both parties had limited or zero knowledge of Innovate UK, the body that runs competitions for government funding; the Angel CoFund, a £100m seed investment fund; and the Patent Box, which lets companies pay less corporation tax on profits earned after April 1 2013 from their patented inventions.
“It is concerning that MPs are not as well informed as they could be about important government schemes to support UK entrepreneurs,” said Hollie Gallagher, head of entrepreneurs at Bircham Dyson Bell. “Fast-growing small firms are vital to our economy […] Great initiatives already exist for start-ups but steps need to be taken to promote them and ensure that these businesses continue to thrive.”
Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right is doing.