Here are the main points raised in Ed Miliband's conference
address that affect small businesses - and under the summary you'll
find reactions to the speech from business lobby groups.
Much repeats the Miliband proposals I summarised in
Monday's blog, though the emphasis on international trade here
is interesting. (And admittedly yesterday I maybe mistakenly echoed
the 'Red Ed' tag being bandied around by the press, when he's
actually positioned himself more centrally than that.)
The promise to business
"I will make Labour the party of enterprise and also the party
of small business."
What it means: This is pretty standard rhetoric
from a party leader. They tend to always give a nod to small
businesses - the real proof is in the proposals pudding.
"This new generation demands responsibility from business."
"We need a tax system for business that rewards responsibility:
to pay a living wage; to provide high quality apprenticeships; and
"I remember during this campaign I met some school dinner
ladies. They had to buy their own uniforms, their shift patterns
were being changed at a moment's notice, frankly conference they
were being exploited."
What it means: As I said on Monday, Miliband is
pro-worker, and expects businesses to live up to his expectations
of a fair society. He wants to make working conditions better for
the individual - with a fair wage (see below), better work-life
balance and generally better treatment of workers. (The sympathy
for the dinner ladies examples highlights all this.) These ideas
are obviously all positives for individuals in society, but will
inevitably cause more red tape and headaches for employers.
The opportunity: international trade
"I want British businesses, large and small, to be able to make
the most of the advantages of globalisation. New Labour was right
to be enthusiastic about the opportunities that come in a more
connected world: the movement of goods and services, the chance to
travel, the new markets for our companies."
What it means: No clear policies laid out yet,
but hopefully this means increased support for small businesses
looking to trade internationally. We think UK small businesses can
benefit hugely from importing/exporting and trading overseas if
they do things sensibly, so this could be great news.
"We have to challenge the old thinking that flexible labour
markets are always the answer. Employers should not be allowed to
exploit migrant labour in order to undercut wages. And if we have
free movement of labour across Europe we need proper labour
standards in our economy, including real protection for agency
What it means: Using migrant workers and
cutting costs by paying them lowly is by no means a standard among
small businesses, but it is something done by a good few. Stricter
regulation in this area could choke things up for small businesses,
even if it means fairer working conditions for agency workers. It's
a painful irony that protecting individual employees through
legislation spells more red tape and difficulty for their
Increase to the national minimum wage?
"I remember a care worker I met in Durham. [...] She told me
that she thought a fair wage would be £7 an hour because after all
she would get that for stacking shelves at the local
"I believe in responsibility in every part of our society.
That's why I believe in not just a minimum wage but the foundation
of our economy in the future must be a living wage."
What it means: Miliband has made it clear he
believes in a higher national minimum wage (which he calls the
living wage and wants to be set at £7). How far he plans to extend
this (will it be for all businesses or just those larger and more
successful ones that can really afford it?) is apparently undecided
- but small business owners could be hit hard if the minimum wage
Reactions from the business world
Richard Lambert, director-general of the Confederation of British
"Companies will worry about some of the issues he raised. For
example, the living wage, agency workers and the bank levy. But he
was careful not to get into detail, so there will be time for
Graeme Leach, director of policy and chief economist at
the Institute of Directors:
"Ed Miliband says that he wants Labour to be the 'party of
enterprise and small business'. How are these sentiments
reconcilable with a commitment to new employment regulations for
agency workers and a large hike in the minimum wage? Both measures
would hurt small and large businesses, not support them. It is
early days, but we detect a drift away from New Labour's efforts to
talk up a pro-enterprise agenda."
Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs
at the British Chambers of Commerce:
"During the worst days of the recession, the policies adopted by
the Labour Government - including the Enterprise Finance Guarantee
- helped prevent many small- and medium-sized businesses from going
to the wall. However, with Labour now in opposition, our survey
shows a gap emerging between business and backbench Labour MPs on
critical issues such as deficit reduction and employment
"We urge Ed Miliband to make re-connecting with business, both
locally and nationally, a key priority of his early months in
office. Economic recovery depends on improving business confidence,
and making it easier - not harder - for companies to take new
Read a full transcript of Ed Miliband's party conference