The meeting was organised and chaired by Philip Ross, a freelancer, long time promoter of the cause of small businesses within the Labour Party, author of The Freedom to Freelance and regular contributer to Shout99.
On the panel were
- Toby Perkins MP - Shadow Small Business Minister
- Bill Thomas - Chair of Labour Small Business Task Force and author of the report, ‘An enterprising nation’
- Victoria Groulef - Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Reading West and a small business owner
- Debbie Abrahams - MP Oldham East and Saddleworth. Chair of the all-party inquiry into late payments
- Prof. Andrew Burke - Chair of Entrpreneurship at Cranfield University and member of Labour’s small business task for
After the event Philip told Shout99 that although the remit of the speakers was quite wide, the subject of speakers and questions from the floor kept returning to freelancers and the flexible economy.
Bill Thomas said that Labour needed to build into the Department of BIS an administration with a real focus on small business.
Andrew Burke said that research was showing that ‘if we want the economy to perform and create growth then we need to look at what is driving the entrepreneurial economy’. He added that freelancers help businesses to manage risk and grow. He added that draft research figures were indicating that up to 17 per cent of the workforce is freelance. He noted that there is a need to legitimise the freelancers role.
Vicky Groulef talked about her background in running two small firms and the need to ‘innovate with what you have’ and the need for education and mentoring to help people see running their own firms as a route and the need to help more independent retailers.
Debbie Abrahams MP talked about late payments. She said that £36.4bn is owed in late payments, which compares to £56bn lend by the banks to firms. It is a significant amount and she has chaired the All Party Group on Late payments which has published a recent report. She said that late payments should be seen as ethical as tax evasion.
Toby Perkins MP responded to the other panellists. On freelancing he talked about his next door neighbour who was an IT contractor. He noted the need to protect people at the bottom of the market from being forced into false-self employment.
In the questions that followed Bill Thomas talked about the legitimacy and importance of people working in IT as freelancers offering management and technical roles and that they can’t be confused with other workers who might be forced into self-employed. He said ‘people are making careers of 30 years in freelancing’.
Philip Ross, who set up the Labour Small Business Forum, added that ‘we need to recognise freelancing as a legitimate model on its own terms. Just as not every shop wants to be the next Tesco, not every freelancer wants to be IBM. We need to recognise that this is a legitimate model in own terms and provide the structures to support this’.
This view received a lot of support from Labour delegates from the floor.
As Bill Thomas, Toby Perkins and Victoria Groulef had to leave the panel for the annual gala dinner, they were replaced by Mike Cherry of the FSB and Simon Vickers of the PCG.
Philip Ross joked while they swapped around that ‘in the Labour Party we understand the idea of flexible working and job sharing and now we have some freelancers on the panel’.
Mike Cherry reinforced the issues around late payments and the need for more focus on small business.
Simon McVicker said how pleased he was with the debate and that Labour was taking this area seriously and paid tribute to Philip Ross and Andrew Burke for the work they had done on it.
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Susie Hughes © Shout99 2013