Election 2010: How Business Leaders Will Vote

As general elections go, this one is fuelling more debate than any in recent history.

The broader issues of jobs, immigration, education, health, and the economy affect everyone to a certain degree.

But for leaders and managers following the policies of all three main parties with an eye on their potential impact post-election, the devil is in the manifesto detail.

We spoke to four business leaders to find out what matters most to each.

1. The entrepreneur investor
2. The public sector HR director
3. The manufacturer and exporter
4. The services entrepreneur

The entrepreneur investor

Simon Dolan is founder and managing director of SJD Accountancy, which has eight offices nationwide and employs over 200 people. He's also a business angel and has invested in a number of start ups that pitched their ideas to him via Twitter.

Key policies
Support for enterprise and new business start ups

  • Lab: set up a regional growth fund, established by Regional Development Agencies, and continue the HMRC 'Time to Pay' scheme.
  • Con: Support would-be entrepreneurs through a new programme, Work for Yourself, which will give unemployed people direct access to business mentors and substantial loans.
  • LibDem: Enterprise investment focus is on green technology start ups, growth and jobs.
Dolan's view: "All three parties talk about supporting enterprise, but the Conservatives have the best policies for new business. I'd like to see them offer tax and National Insurance breaks for new start ups and those taking on staff." [Shadow Chancellor George Osborne subsquently promised to cut NI for businesses begun within two years of a Tory government and employing up to 10 people.]

Regulation

  • Lab: Continue to simplify regulation and cut red tape.
  • Con: Introduce regulatory budgets, forcing any government body wanting to introduce a new regulation to reduce regulation elsewhere by a greater amount, with scope for worst regulations to be repealed.
  • LibDem: Similar to Conservatives.
"The employment of staff has become a legal minefield. There's so much regulation when you are recruiting people, and if problems arise and you have to discipline or dismiss someone, the dangers are unlimited. The laws are far too skewed towards the rights of the employee. I would welcome any moves to change that."

Pension contributions

  • Lab: Support for automatic enrolment in occupational pensions and new personal pension accounts, with everyone in work entitled to matched contributions from employers and government.
  • Con: May scrap the new national pension scheme, but pledged to 'reinvigorate occupational pensions' and support auto-enrolment.
  • LibDem: No firm policy on occupational pension schemes and employer contributions.
"The higher the compulsory employer pension contributions, the more effect they have in terms of reducing wages and increasing prices - the money to fund them has to come from somewhere. It will probably deter companies from taking more people on."

Impact on voting intentions "All I can go off are past performances, because I believe that history always repeats itself, and ultimately, the Conservatives will perform better for business than Labour," says Dolan.

The public sector HR director
The manufacturer and exporter
The services entrepreneur

The public sector HR director

Dean Shoesmith, HR director of Sutton and Merton Councils and president of the Public Sector People Management Association (PPMA). Last year the HR services of Sutton and Merton councils were merged, creating a shared HR division, making savings of £500,000.

Shoesmith's view: "There is a lot of talk about changes to public sector services after the election, but change has been happening for some time. In the case of the Merton and Sutton merger, people have to work harder, but we're making savings and improving efficiency."
Key policies

Public sector pay

  • Lab: Proposed one percent cap on public sector pay rises till 2013.
  • Con: Freeze public sector pay for one year in 2011, excluding the one million lowest paid.
  • LibDem: Impose a pay rise cap for two years.
"Pay is a critical issue, and a concern for all three parties. Everyone recognises the need for restraint, but we want to avoid anything too radical. This is a great opportunity to transform public services, but we need to be able to attract and retain the best leadership talent that we can afford," says Shoesmith.

Training and development

  • Lab: Create up to 70,000 advanced apprenticeships a year, skills accounts for workers to upgrade their skills, and a new teacher training academy.
  • Con: Funding for 200,000 apprentices over two years, and pledges to extend teacher training and second career and conversion programmes, such as Turning to Teaching.
  • LibDem: Full funding for the off-the-job costs of adult apprenticeships, currently met by employers, for one year.
Says Shoesmith: "One of my biggest concerns is the UK's skills deficit and the impact of the growing number of long-term unemployed. In the US, the number of long-term unemployed has doubled in the past year -- it's possible the situation could be repeated here. If this country is going to emerge from recession and organisations are to compete in a global economy, we have to see more investment in workplace skills training and development, apprenticeships, and teacher training."

Red tape

  • Lab: Simplify regulation and avoid unnecessary red tape
  • Con: Reduce red tape in employment by introducing a 'one-in, one-out' rule for new regulations and 'sunset clauses'.
  • LibDem: Policy similar to Conservatives.
"Business regulation, especially employment, has become more complex, time-consuming and costly. The EU Agency Workers directive, due to take effect in December 2011, will have particular impact on us. It will give UK temp workers equal rights to permanent staff after 12 weeks with an employer. We employ agency workers, so the changes will cost us money," says Shoesmith.

Influence on voting intentions "Nothing I'm hearing from the three main parties, whose policies on some key issues such as training and working practices are quite similar, would particularly influence my vote because a lot of what they are proposing post-election is already happening."

The entrepreneur investor
The manufacturer and exporter
The services entrepreneur

The manufacturer and exporter

Adrian Maxwell is managing director of Birmingham-based cappuccino and espresso coffee machine manufacturer Fracino.
A family business, it employs 27 people and sells more than 2,000 machines a year. Trade has been fairly evenly divided between the domestic and overseas markets; but there's been a sharp rise in exports to in recent months, in line with the euro's strength against sterling.

Maxwell's view: "Initially we struggled to make inroads into the export market, hindered by the strength of sterling. Following a redesign of our website, an overhaul of our pricing structure, and a dramatic improvement in the exchange rate, we became more competitive for European customers and for importers in the UK."

Key Policies
Taxation

  • Lab: No plans to change corporate tax.
  • Con: Reduce main rate from 28 percent to 25 percent and small company rate to 20 percent, countered by a reduction in capital allowances.
  • LibDem: A reduction in headline rate, unspecified, and a clampdown on loopholes.
Says Maxwell: "Tax has been a big concern over the last four or five years. It seems that the more successful you are, the more your business is penalised, and as long as the thresholds are not going to be changed, we are keen to see corporation tax rates reduced."

Fuel duty

  • Lab: Further duty increments of one pence planned for October 2010 and January 2011.
  • Con: Pledged to consult on a fuel duty stabiliser, countering fluctuating oil prices to keep forecourt prices steady.
  • LibDem: Introduce a rural fuel discount scheme to allow a reduced fuel duty to be paid in remote areas.
"We operate a busy service section that involves a significant number of business miles. We calculated that one driver, doing 35,000 miles a year, costs the business over £870 a week. Under Labour plans, fuel duty is set to go up again, which will push up forecourt prices and increase our overheads. Margins on exports are always tight, and if these are squeezed any further we are left with even less to invest in further product development and growth."

Impact on voting intentions "Policies that support business growth rather than stall it, and recognise the importance of market stability and favourable exchange rates for exporters, will be the ones that get my vote. I haven't made my decision, and that could be swayed by what I hear before May 6."

The entrepreneur investor
The public sector HR director
The services entrepreneur

The Services Entrepreneur

Aaron Ross is founder of Firstcare, an outsourced absence management company that employs 110 people and works with large public and private sector organisations to reduce the cost of sickness absence.

Ross's view: "Our large private sector clients have recognised that managing employee sickness absence and supporting staff back to health saves money and boosts productivity. It's a source of frustration, especially in light of plans for tackling public sector spending cuts, that the potential savings are not being acknowledged."

Key Policies
Public sector spending

  • Lab: 'Targeted' increase in public spending over the next year to 'sustain recovery', before cutting the deficit by more than 50 percent by 2014.
  • Con: Aim to eliminate 'the bulk' of the UK's structural deficit within five years beginning in 2010 with £6bn in cuts.
  • LibDem: Reduce the deficit with £15bn of savings in government spending.
Says Ross: "So far none of the parties has a policy on sickness absence savings. In this year's Budget, Labour mentioned NHS staff sickness as a target for £555m in cost savings, but hasn't explained how it will be done. Using the same sickness absence management strategies that the private sector has, the NHS could save £1.2bn annually, and improve performance and service levels."

National Insurance (NI)

  • Lab: Planned one percent NI increase in 2011.
  • Con: Reverse Labours planned NI rise for people earning less than £35,000.
  • LibDem: Reverse the one percent rise when resources allow.
"The company is at a stage where we need to think about taking on staff, and any increase in National Insurance is a move that penalises recruitment and becomes a barrier to growth," says Ross.

Europe

  • Lab: Pro-Europe with plans for an EU-wide, post-recession 'compact for jobs and growth.'
  • Con: Opt out of the charter of fundamental rights, protection against EU encroachment in the UK's criminal justice system, and return to national control of employment legislation.
  • LibDem: The most pro-European of the three, promising to get the best out of Europe by leading from the front.
"So much of red tape that affects business originates from Europe. I'd like sufficient distance to be able to enhance our own sovereignty, but the UK must get close enough to Brussels to influence decision-making. Labour has had the opportunity to become more influential over the years, but hasn't taken it," says Ross.

Influence on voting intentions "There are a couple of decisions that could sway my vote. The Conservatives haven't fielded Ken Clarke yet, and with his gravitas and wealth of experience, that is the deal-breaker."

The entrepreneur investor
The public sector HR director
The manufacturer and exporter