One of the worst things about being a business owner watching the news during the pandemic is having to listen to the endless opinions of economists and business leaders in the media. They may sound like they know what they’re talking about, with lots of fancy words such as “trend” and “sector”, but they are all largely isolated from the realities of business in a coronavirus-affected sector and miss the personal, day-to-day realities of running a business during this crisis.
I heard about the increased restrictions on my pub not through any official government announcement, but how we have all come to expect news from this government – through a late-night briefing to the press. I was attempting to have a night off and enjoy time with friends. Instead, yet again, my future and the futures of my staff members were thrown into doubt. It does not have to be this way.
Businesses have been told by Boris Johnson that we have a long, hard winter ahead, and Rishi Sunak has followed that up by confirming that nobody will save us. Businesses are not facing the usual market forces and long-term trends that the economists understand. We are in a fight for survival. It’s emotional and we’re already battered and tired from the last six months, having to react to announcements that are not backed up by the detailed guidance we need. Our fortitude will be key to making sure we make it through to recovery and don’t just throw in the towel.
This is not to say that we are sick of experts. Far from it. If we are to fight the virus, it must be with evidence-based policy. The thinking behind restrictions must be clearly communicated. We need to be treated like adults, not just sent to our room like naughty children. It has now been admitted by small business minister Paul Scully that no assessment was made of the impact the 10pm curfew would have on hospitality and it seems it wasn’t discussed with SAGE either. The 2003 Licensing Act brought in measures to stop every pub and club kicking people out at the same time. Those of us that remember clubbing before that law will remember the long queue for the taxi rank. The scenes in London and other cities of winding queues for the off-licence and the ride home were completely foreseeable for those of us that run pubs.
They’ve ignored us when we’ve told them what we need to survive. It has now passed into folklore that hospitality has been offered tax cuts and we are being supported. In reality, these cuts have been selective, with a VAT reduction only on dry sales, not alcohol. This favours exactly the same businesses that were able to make money during Eat Out to Help Out. At this point, it is hard not to believe that Rishi Sunak has something against community, drinks-led pubs.
As anyone who has ever run a business will tell you, uncertainty is a killer. If there are bad times ahead, the one thing you need is a plan. We recognise that restrictions will often need to be announced with little or no warning, but support packages for businesses should have been preplanned, to ensure that announcements about support come at the same time as announcements about restrictions. The haphazard approach to the economic crisis means that any decisions I make are just guesses.
The need for thinking ahead is why Labour is quietly becoming the party of business. Over the summer, it has been Labour voices that have been consistently planning ahead and looking for long-term solutions. The three-point plan put forward by Anneliese Dodds for the economy included a need to rebuild businesses. I found it emotional to hear her talk about her father’s small business during her speech to ‘Connected‘.
It was the first major speech by a politician to recognise that business owners are people in pain. Shadow business minister Lucy Powell has been tireless in speaking to suffering businesses, such as wedding planners, and has built up a great understanding of the personal cost of closures. To ensure that we cement this good start and have a strong set of business policies, we must talk to business owners who embody Labour values.
Labour Business is one of the Labour Party’s oldest affiliated socialist societies. It was founded by Harold Wilson in 1972 to enable the Labour Party to listen to the business community and be listened to by the business community. We are arranged into nine policy groups that are encouraged to innovate and organise discussions on subjects like economic policy, business and industrial policy, corporate governance, self-employment and women in business.
I joined Labour because of my values, not my business. I campaigned in the last election on public sector pay, the NHS and social security. However, with so many businesses disappearing without a trace, our business policies must be fair and true to our values but also rooted in the new economic reality. Labour Business stands ready to lead the conversation, consulting with the frontbench and grassroots members. Now more than ever, Labour can be the party of business as well as the party of workers and their trade unions.