LibLink: Tim Farron – What Can Government do to Help the Self Employed?

Tim Farron MP speaks at the rallyLib Dem party president Tim Farron has been writing at the Huffington Post about the need for politicians to support the growing number of what he terms the ‘little platoons’ of entrepreneurs and small businesses:

Unlike many politicians, I think this rise in self-employment could be a good thing, at least for those who’ve made the choice. I welcome the fact that entrepreneurial individuals are trusting themselves and their skills and striking out on their own. Especially amongst older workers, an increased willingness to share acquired knowledge and experience is creating successful small business owners and consultants. …

If I were a Tory, I’d say all we need to do is slash red tape. But I’m not, so instead I’ll say that self-employed people need more constructive help with the multiple reams of paperwork. We should simplify tax returns, offer ongoing effective support, and make sure that HMRC gets all the information it needs with the minimum administrative burden on the individual. And when the chancellor presents the final budget of this Coalition government, I’d like to see the self-employed being able to hire one assistant without having to pay their National Insurance.

Arguing that we should “applaud and celebrate” the self-employed, he praises measures already implemented by Lib Dems within the Coalition – Steve Webb’s single-tier pension, Jo Swinson’s Deregulation Bill – and highlights others where progress is being made, such as the review of business rates, with the party wanting to see the option of moving to Site Value Rating within five years and, in the longer term, to Land Value Taxation.

Tim’s conclusion calls for further action to support the self-employed in the 2015 Budget:

People sometimes tell me the Lib Dems need a “target market” to win an election. They point to the Labour party, which was created by the trade unions and remains a powerful special interest group within it. Or they point to the Conservative party, which has long been dominated by the special interests of the City and big business. As a liberal, I don’t believe in governing for special interest groups. The unions have an important role; so too does the City. We should recognise and balance both their needs, but my only “target market” is the British public.

However, there is a group which neither Labour nor the Conservatives speak up for nearly enough – the entrepreneur and the small business. These ‘little platoons’ – industrious, innovative, rooted in their communities – deserve our support. I want them to be able to look to the Lib Dems and know we speak up for them, offer them the little bit of help which can make all the difference. We need to up our game and I hope that with this Budget we can show the self-employed that we grasp their concerns and we are on their side.

You can read Tim Farron’s article in full here.

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  • Some good stuff from Tim but if he is serious there is a lot of leeway to make up and I don’t really think the “little bit of help” he suggests really cuts it. It’s not help entrepreneurs and small businesses need so much as fairness but, sad to say, many Lib Dems appear quite indifferent to fairness in an economic context as opposed to, say, contexts of access to welfare or identity politics.

    For years and years large firms have been quietly using their influence to lobby for changes to legislation and to regulations that suit them. Naturally, the Conservatives have been mostly happy to oblige while Labour has had little to add. The result is a very tilted playing field. So what smaller firms need is primarily fairness – a level playing field. However, that would mean changing the rules against the interests of firms-you-have-heard-of and that would cause a huge row. For example it might mean banning price flexing by multiple retailers (different prices in different stores). Examples exist where Big Co Ltd has sold at or near cost until independent competitors have been driven out of business at which point prices are raised to premium levels. This is the road to oligarchy which we have travelled since Thatcher; it’s time we changed course.

  • Stephen Donnelly 29th Oct '14 - 7:28pm

    I’m from the government and I’m here to help. Not the most frightening words, as Ronald Regan claimed, but in general businesses, small, and not so small, learn to steer clear of government help.

    Businesses need consistency from government. Where they interact they need efficiency. The need support to be focused on what the business needs rather that the strategy the government wants to deliver.

    I would much rather the planning department of my local authority put resource into approving trivial planning application quickly, rather than employing a team of ex-business people to ‘help’.

    Where we do need help, we need it in small doses, quickly. Government support is often dependent upon a business enrolling on a programme, or registering for a scheme. The providers are often paid on short-term results, and are only interested in providing help that helps them achieve their targets rather than satisfy the needs of the business.

    Finally, please Mr Farron do not waste any money of conferences at the Lowry with speakers from the Apprentice or Dragon’s Den. No more £500 grants that involve hours of form filling, and fewer civil servants that disappear at 2pm to catch the train back to London.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Oct '14 - 9:50pm

    A good move by Farron. The Conservatives often favour big business over the self-employed – many of the costs from the banking crisis are being spread across the whole industry, even the self-employed. Labour harm the self-employed in plenty of other ways, such as by constantly viewing progress as higher minimum wages.

    However, I want to let Labour off the hook slightly. They might talk a statist game, but when it comes to economic policy they are secretly coming out with some good de-regulation gems, which you won’t see advertised on LabourList.

    In this article Jon Cruddas hints at reducing the regulatory costs for firms that have more responsible practices. As someone who has complained to the regulator in the past over this very practice it was a delight and a surprise to see Labour as the first party to challenge this unfairness.

  • John Critchley 30th Oct '14 - 9:30am

    I would suggest that what the self-employed may want is for Government to provide a stable economy with as little bureaucracy as possibly commensurate with necessary Government functions. The S/E will then get on with the job.
    Tim, it doesn’t need money. Like so many other things it’s down to attitude.
    There’s nothing more galling than having ones hard earned income taxed for unnecessary Government functions and subsidies.
    Just be on the side of business in general (OK, with caveats for monopolies) and we will all prosper.

    The New Statesman article is food for thought.

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