UK election: How Labour is wooing small business

Two of the signatories to a letter from 120 businesses declaring support for Labour tell The National why the party gets their vote

Rachel Coldicutt, executive director of Careful Trouble, and Jack Curtis, the co-founder of Carbon Jacked. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Jack Curtis
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As the UK's general election looms, Britain's business community is being wooed by both of the two main parties, who know that the main battlefield for votes will be the economy.

Rachel Coldicutt is the founder and executive director of the tech research consultancy, Careful Industries, and its sister social enterprise, Promising Trouble.

She told The National that there seems to be a lot of “hesitancy in the economy and a lot of waiting-and-seeing”, while conditions for businesses have been “very tough”.

One area of her business examines the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI), but she feels the current government has been focusing too much on the more abstract future risks, what she calls the “space-age end”, rather than the practical projects that need to be implemented by British companies right now.

“At the moment, one of the things that is happening in the technology space is that the government is very invested in frontier technologies, but not really thinking at all about how technology is used and rolled out in the economy as a whole,” she said.

“A lot of the Tory approach is a bit more on the 'never-never' – things that might happen, but haven't yet and it feels like a lot of practicality needs to happen right now.”

Ms Coldicutt was one of 120 business leaders who sent a letter to The Times newspaper on Tuesday setting out the reasons why they'll be supporting the Labour Party in the election in five weeks' time.

“Over the past two years, the Conservatives have shown that they are not particularly the party of small businesses and they're not supporting entrepreneurs,” Ms Coldicutt told The National.

“The Conservatives have been focused on big picture, big money and not the day-to-day reality.”

“Across the last five years, many people I've spoken to in business have said that we really need stability, certainty and the ability to plan for more than a year – for five years, at least.

“I would say that things have been heading this way since at least 2019.”

The signatories to the letter included Andy Palmer, the former boss of Aston Martin and John Holland-Kaye, the former chief executive of Heathrow airport, as well as senior figures in various UK industries, from banking and advertising to retail and technology. They said the Labour Party should now be given the chance to “change the country and lead Britain into the future”.

“We are in urgent need of a new outlook to break free from the stagnation of the past decade and we hope by taking this public stand we might persuade others of that need too,” the letter read.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and restaurateur Tom Kerridge also put their names to the letter, as did Jack Curtis, the founder of the climate change consultancy, Carbon Jacked.

“We’re sick of the Conservative chaos and short-term thinking, particularly on Net Zero, which the very worst of short-term politics,” he told The National.

“The biggest problem with the current government is their inability to think seriously about the long term and how to take advantage of areas of growth like the green economy.

“From what they’ve announced so far, Labour is serious about this and has a plan,” he added.

The letter served as a boost for the first campaign speech of the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, who claimed that “across the world of business Labour is being recognised as the natural partner of business, the party of growth, and the party of enterprise”.

“A few years ago, you might not have expected to have heard these things from the Labour Party. Think how far we've come under Keir's leadership in four short years.

“If we can change this party to bring it back in the service of working people, if we can return it to the centre grounds of politics, if we can bring business back to Labour, then I know that we can bring business back to Britain,” she added.

However, Ms Coldicutt recognises that Labour doesn't have a magic wand and should they win the election will fiscally constrained by the current state of the economy. Nonetheless, she feels Labour offers more in terms of hope for small businesses.

“If you run a small business, you're perpetually optimistic,” she told The National.

“Absolutely we need to be realistic about the situation we're in, but that doesn't mean that better things aren't possible.”

Updated: May 29, 2024, 1:44 PM