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Will Labour show us some leg?

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Sara Kelly is your eyes, ears and voice in Brussels and Westminster. Every fortnight she brings you the latest insights on policy changes, legislation and lobbying.

It’s been just over 3 years since the public went to the polls and returned a hung Parliament. Just 5 days later the Conservatives and Lib Dems signed a agreement to see out the next 5 years as a Coalition Government.

We’re now over halfway through the current Government’s term of office, and politicos, pundits and the public alike are just starting to look to what would be on offer.

For those of us in Tech City we want to make sure that no matter whether the current Coalition Government stays in power, or whether one party wins an outright majority, or there’s whole change at Number 10 and the Labour party wins the next general election, that the next Government will have plans to introduce measures that will encourage growth in digital startups.

This week the Shadow Chancellor (George Osborne’s counterpart in the Labour party), Ed Balls gave a keynote speech to journalists in the City entitled ‘the UK economy’. Many expected to hear proposals for Labour’s plan for growth if they win the next election. Instead Ed Balls outlined some of the problems they saw in the current Government’s policy, but said it isn’t the time to be setting out their plans for they would do if they were in Government.

Labour Party Hangs out

Also this week, I sat in on a ‘#TechCities’ Google Hangout between some of the Labour Shadow Ministerial team Chukka Umunna (seen as one of Labour’s ‘rising stars’) and Liam Byrne (of ‘there’s no money left’ note fame) and representatives of the startup communities in Tel Aviv and Lagos. Members of the Labour Friends of Israel had recently visited Tel Aviv to see what lessons could be learnt from the city seen by some as a rival to the Valley.

There were signs that at least the attendees of the hangout from the Labour party are beginning to understand the issues that are important to startups. Chukka Umunna spoke of the need to encourage equity based rather than debt based finance. Liam Byrne, said the Government should be looking to emulate the Israeli market where Government helps to open doors and facilitate homegrown startups to enter a global market. Everybody spoke of the need to foster the entrepreneurial spirit in the UK and the ‘culture of risk’.

East London also has a great local MP in Meg Hillier, who regularly sticks up for Hackney-based tech entrepreneurs and has a particular interest in encouraging local schools to participate in initiatives that foster digital skills.

But we need to see some solid proposals in order to have confidence in a potential future Labour Government. A member of the audience asked Liam Byrne ‘how would you intervene in startup markets and help open the doors if there’s no money left?’ but again the response was a list of the problems rather than any specific proposals or policies.

It ain’t what you say…

It’s all very well knowing what you wouldn’t do, but we need to have confidence in what you’re going to do. We need to have confidence we’re not going to be hit with another Digital Economy Act.

The Act which was passed with little scrutiny under the last Labour Government in 2010. Which, despite the business-friendly-sounding name, sought to combat piracy not by encouraging the licensing of content to startup digital providers, but by introducing a 3 strike warning system of posted letters which could result in cutting off internet access for whole households (aka customers). They’ve also renewed calls for the Communications Data Bill despite the significant impact this would have in limited UK digital business potential by forcing standardised data collection and retention.

Our current Government has shown that it recognises the potential digital startups have to contribute to the UK economy. They commissioned the Hargreaves report looking into making the Intellectual Property framework fit for a digital age, they introduced the Entrepreneurs visa shortly after they came to power, they. Of course they have the advantage of being the current Government, and it is their job to introduce measures to promote business growth.

There are signs that the opposition is beginning to understand some of the core issues faced by small businesses. Labour needs to show tech entrepreneurs what they would do to help solve these issues if they want to get their support.

image credit: wikimedia commons

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