With elections approaching in Holyrood Scotland, Senedd Wales and across 143 local councils throughout England, we’re taking a closer look at what party manifestos have to say about areas of policy related to business support, jobs and skills.

In the second of our two-part blog, we reflected on what the various party manifestos say about areas of policy that are relevant to universities, research and development and innovation. The blog can be found here.

Scotland

Over the course of the current parliament, the incumbent Scottish National Party (SNP) have promised to maintain the Small Business bonus which could mean that 100,000 business properties are exempt from paying business rates. They will also seek to gradually reduce the Large Business Supplement (LBS). The SNP have also promised to take advantage of Scotland’s strong record on inward investment, and to create an “additional 20,000 jobs, increase Scottish GDP by over £4 billion, boost Scottish exports by over £2 billion and add up to £680 million annually to government revenues”.

Almost half of all R&D expenditure in Scotland comes from the manufacturing sector, and both support and investment has been promised in energy, low carbon and satellite manufacturing. An additional £500 million to support new jobs and reskill people for the jobs of the future was also pledged by the SNP. Both are welcome signs for Scotland’s manufacturing firms. Ahead of Glasgow’s hosting of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the SNP also promises £1.6 billion of promised investment towards a more sustainable, greener economy of the future.

The Scottish Conservative Party have also pledged to maintain the Small Business Bonus, but will look to offer at least 25% rates relief to businesses in 2022-23 and introduce a tapered scheme for businesses with rateable values between £15,000 and £20,000 (the current Small Business Bonus only applying to those business premises with a rateable value of £15,000 or below). They have also promised to incentivise lifelong learning, and by 2023 will introduce a Right to Retrain Account for every single Scottish adult, including £500 that can be spent on training every year.

The restructuring of the Scottish National Investment Bank proposed by the Scottish Labour party will support businesses’ transition to green and digital futures. Labour have also pledged to reduce business rates for non-grocery bricks and mortar shops, and to set up a taskforce in order to determine how business rates need to change. For those who are unemployed or have been placed on furlough, Labour have also pledged a £500 grant for retraining, acknowledging the myriad ways in which Covid-19 has changed the world of work.

Wales

The pandemic has significantly impacted businesses and jobs in Wales and smaller businesses have been some of the hardest-hit. The Welsh Labour party has pledged to prioritise support for SMEs, entrepreneurs and start-ups. Labour have also promised a stronger and better workforce, including promoting good quality skills in areas the economy is expected to grow.

Plaid Cymru have promised to utilise the Development Bank of Wales to both support businesses and allow them to thrive. It is through the Development Bank that Plaid Cymru hopes to nurture Wales’ economic independence, and help domestically owned businesses grow their market share.  Plaid Cymru has also pledged 60,000 new jobs via a £6bn ‘green economic stimulus’.

The Welsh Conservatives have promised to create 65,000 new jobs over the term of the next Welsh Parliament, 15,000 of which will be ‘green’ jobs. In what could have significant impact if this were to be implemented, the Conservatives are also pledging to abolish business rates for small firms. With proposed investments in Further Education Colleges, the Institute of Technology in North Wales, and 150,000 apprenticeships by 2026, the Conservatives have also made clear their intention to promote technical education, skills and lifelong learning.

Greater Manchester

The current mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has promised to back businesses in Greater Manchester, and will work with “councils and the Growth Hub to provide loans, grants and advice to businesses”. He has also promised to take advantage of Greater Manchester’s position as Europe’s fastest-growing digital and tech hub, and will use their £92 million devolved Adult Education Budget to provide green and digital skills conversion courses for adult learners.

West Midlands

The Conservative mayor of West Midlands, Andy Street, has promised to create at least 100,000 jobs and training opportunities in the next two years were he to be re-elected, and has pledged to help the West Midlands make the transition to green technology. The 2020 Umlaut Audit Report analysed 5G coverage across the UK’s Combined Authority areas and placed the West Midlands first for 5G coverage. The Conservatives in the West Midlands have pledged to take advantage of the region’s expertise in rolling out 5G and develop a globally competitive tech sector.

London

London’s current mayor, Sadiq Khan, has promised to continue to support SMEs during the pandemic, including the £1.5million of Covid Business Recovery Grants, and £4.3 million in Covid Business Interruption Loans (CBILS). Khan has also promised to fight the devolution of business rates as it could have a major impact on London rate increases.

On the Government’s decision to abolish the university teaching grant London weighting, Khan has promised to ‘oppose any attacks on London weightings’, including those affecting businesses. He has also promised 170,000 green jobs, jobs in “future proof sectors”. Regarding the changing world of work, Khan has also pledged continued support towards skills and retraining, having already secured devolution of the Adult Education Budget.

The Conservative candidate, Shaun Bailey has also opposed 100% devolution of business rates to London, on the basis that London has a “unique position at the head of the UK economy”. Bailey has promised 924,000 new jobs over five years, with 11,000 new green jobs being proposed as part of the goal for London to become a net neutral city. £10.9bn of capital investment from a new London Infrastructure Bank has also been promised as a way to sustain 160,000 jobs across the city. He has also pledged to invest in better training opportunities.

Reflections

Across parties, countries and parts of the UK, there is a focus by candidates on not just recovering from the pandemic, but also rejuvenating and adapting to the opportunities presented by new technologies and the need for more environmentally sustainable approaches. There’s a strong and welcome recognition that businesses need support and access to talent in order to lead this rejuvenation. However, the scale of the challenge posed by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the longer-term changes driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will require further response from elected leaders.