Small businesses were feeling the love last week at the Federation of Small Businesses conference in Birmingham. With only 43 days to go until the general election, and with the debate heating up,

FSB members had front row seats as one after the other George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband rolled up to present their manifesto to an audience of over 1000 business owners.

It was fascinating watching all three performances; here are the promises made by each, should they form the next Government…

George Osborne: the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which is completing its passage through parliament, will name and shame those guilty of late payments. And the promise of a business rates review.

Nick Clegg: SMEs will be made the priority for any business tax cuts. A third of government contracts will go to SMEs with the aim of doubling the number of employers with apprentices in the next parliament.

Ed Miliband: Labour will cut business rates, then freeze them again next year. They will give the regulator the power to cut energy bills so that wholesale price falls are passed onto small businesses. They will also create a British investment bank to provide lending to SMEs across the country.

At the following Q&A session a question from the owner of a murder scene recreation company was the high point of the whole conference.

Yes, you heard me correctly – a murder scene recreation company. Now that’s a niche market!

The owners challenge to Ed Miliband, the lucky politician to get this question, regarded Labour’s plans against zero-hours contracts and the impact this would have on his business.

Naturally it would be difficult for a business such as a murder scene investigator to create ‘demand’ for their services and business planning must indeed be tricky, so you can see why zero hour contracts provide a flexible employment option for this particular business.

Stunned momentarily by the unusual nature of the business, Mr Miliband replied that Labour’s take on zero-hours contracts is to target big businesses to take staff on in, what is effectively, full-time capacity.

An unusual business and situation? Absolutely, but more importantly it was a classic example of the diverse nature of small businesses, rarely taken into consideration when the parties propose new policies and it highlights brilliantly the unintended and unforeseen consequences of those policies on small businesses.

The message from FSB members was loud and clear – it is one thing turning up before an election to say that small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy but another to demonstrate that with decisive actions and policies that give small businesses a fair playing field from which to compete with the larger corporate companies with their sweetheart deals with HMRC.

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