This week, Philip Salter of The Entrepreneurs Network will explore what the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos mean for UK tech. Today: The Labour manifesto – is it good news for tech companies, or bad?
Labour’s manifesto launch was a bit of an anticlimax, after an early iteration was leaked a week before the official version. Many compared it to Michael Foot’s “longest suicide note in history” – perhaps unfairly – but it’s certainly the closest thing we’ve seen to that 1983 manifesto.
Let’s be clear, the Labour manifesto is a shout out to socialism, pledging to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and the energy grid. To quote: “Across the world, countries are taking public utilities back into public ownership. Labour will learn from these experiences and bring key utilities back into public ownership to deliver lower prices, more accountability and a more sustainable economy.” But the manifesto is about more than renationalising major industries, with policies that will impact entrepreneurs and the tech sector more broadly.
Labour the point
Labour is concerned about self-employment, which isn’t surprising given the leadership is strongly supportive of (and supported by) trade unions. Labour wants to shift the burden of proof, so that the law assumes a worker is an employee unless the employer can prove otherwise. Zero-hour contracts and unpaid internships would be banned.
All workers – including temporary staff – would have full employee rights from day one, paternity leave would be doubled to four weeks and protections would be increased for women at work. The gig may well be up for many people working over multiple short-term job contracts.
Uber and Transport for London have been at loggerheads for years. Labour promises to sort this out – it’s not clear how, but odds are they would side with TfL and Black Cab drivers over Travis Kalanick’s company.
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On the face of it, Corbyn’s immigration stance is less harsh than the Prime Minister’s. The manifesto refuses to “scapegoat migrants” and wouldn’t set an immigration cap. And Labour would take the international students out of the immigration numbers.
However, there’s a tension within Labour’s ideology that may stymie this more liberal outlook. The manifesto is suffused with a desire to bolster trade unions and it promises legislation to prevent businesses undercutting staff pay by recruiting abroad.
Under 18s only
Labour wants to focus on cybercrime, protecting children and tackling online abuse. Young people would be able to remove content that they’ve shared on the internet before they turned 18. The manifesto also wants to review the way innovators and artists in the creative industries are rewarded.
The manifesto also promises to create the job of Digital Ambassador to promote Britain as a good place for investment and entrepreneurs. It also promises to prioritise science, technology and health-based research, committing to “extra research investment”.
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It wouldn’t be a manifesto without mention of broadband. Labour is promising “universal” superfast (24MB of higher) broadband availability by 2022, as well as an investigation through the National Infrastructure Commission into rolling out of ultrafast (300Mbps) broadband in a decade.
Few or phew?
Labour would raise corporation tax from 19% to 26% by 2020, but reintroduce the lower small profits rate of corporation tax. The manifesto also promises a full review of business rates, which is a political hot potato. In the short term, I would like to see a tech solution creating real-time revaluations and to plant and machinery taken out of the calculations so capital spending isn’t disincentivised.
The Living Wage is expected to be increased to at least £10 per hour by 2020. The leaked manifesto promised to “establish a new employment allowance for business that struggle to pay a higher living wage”, but this was cut from the final document.
Labour has promised there would be no tax rises for those earning below £80,000 (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that MPs earn £74,000), but the top 5% would contribute more in tax. Income tax rate would rise to 45p for earnings above £80,000 and then to 50p in each pound earned over £123,000, with an “excessive pay levy” on salaries above £330,000.
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More broadly, there would be no rise in personal National Insurance (NI) Contributions or the rate of VAT. The omission of Employer’s National Insurance is telling – Labour and all other political parties need to acknowledge that the cost of Employer’s NI is actually passed onto employees in the form of lower taxes.
Labour is also “declaring war” on late payments, demanding that bidders for government contracts pay suppliers in 30 days, promising to develop a version of the Australian system of binding arbitration and fines for persistent late payers for the private sector. They would also scrap quarterly reporting for businesses with a turnover of under £83,000.
Manifestos aren’t budgets, so always lack detail. Nevertheless, it’s clear that tech and digital aren’t particularly high up Labour’s priority list. The tagline for the manifesto is “For the Many, Not the Few”; it’s not entirely clear whether a non-unionised self-employed software developer or an ambitious start-up founder is part of the many or the few. I suspect it’s the latter.
Keep your eyes peeled for the author’s summaries of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos later this week.