Moving the goal posts makes employee ownership a political football

In recent months both sides of the political divide have proposed employee ownership as the solution to some of the UK’s burning economic woes.

Good news you might think? Frustratingly however, these references have been politicised; Labour’s policy recommendations of the ‘Inclusive Ownership Fund’ and ‘Right to Own’ proposing employee ownership as a solution to economic failures, mandated in law, and that the former include what is ostensibly an additional stealth tax on larger private and public businesses.

Government’s response to Labour’s proposals has been to ask business trade bodies and organisations for their proposals. While this level of consultation with businesses organisations, including the EOA, is welcomed, disappointingly, many of these conversations are framed as simply responsive to the opposition’s proposals, rather than boldly considering how to maximise the impact of business ownership structures such as employee ownership and employee share ownership to support a more inclusive economy.

So while we always welcome the conversation, both the Government and the opposition are missing the point.

Employee ownership is not a tactical tool to fix short term inadequacies in the current system; it is an important strategic ingredient of what is needed to transform the UK into a more inclusive economy.

Employee ownership should therefore not be a political football. It does not favour left or right. It favours wealth equality by engaging and rewarding entrepreneurs and founders and their employee owners with a stake and say in the business, trusting them to make informed decisions that are in the best long term interest of the business and which support greater regional resilience, as a counter balance to the short term decision making often seen in other structures of business.

Both political parties currently lack ambition in their view of the true potential of employee ownership. As is outlined in the Ownership Dividend, and has been highlighted by other organisations including the British Academy, IFOW and RSA, widening awareness and take-up of different models of business ownership, including employee ownership, is an absolute necessity if we are to deliver a more balanced, fairer and inclusive economy.

So politicising employee ownership by pitting ‘bosses’ against ‘workers’, penalising larger, listed businesses, or simply tinkering at the edges of existing schemes lacks both vision and courage.

A future Government that is bold and progressive will support the development of a more strategic, mission-led approach to restructuring the way in which businesses are owned in the UK as part of rebalancing and strengthening the UK economy. They will do this cross-party, following the lead of the US where the recently passed, Main Street Employee Ownership Act is supported by both Houses as a sensible economic response to supporting greater wealth equality as part of a more diverse and resilient economy.

If the recent Brexit negotiations have taught our politicians anything, it is that moving the policy goalposts and putting party politics and ideology ahead of the interests of the public and the economy is not a vote winner.