SMEs form the backbone of our economy, making up around 99% of Britain's private sector businesses in the UK, 48% of private sector employment and 33% of private sector turnover. Over 200,000 of these businesses in the UK sell through eBay; that's a great responsibility and one which is front of mind as we continue to grow as an online marketplace.
A lot of ink has been dedicated to what big business thinks ahead of the general election, with less attention given to our economic lifeblood: small businesses. Pick up a newspaper, switch on the TV or browse Twitter and it doesn't take long to see the views of large, global businesses. It's not surprising, then, that our research with YouGov found 78% of SMEs believe political leaders care far more about big business than small businesses. Considering the huge contribution that SMEs make to our economy, the fact that so many feel that politicians only care more about big businesses is simply not good enough.
With the election less than a week away, we want to give online SMEs a platform to speak out about their hopes and ambitions for the next five years. Specifically, we've delved into the policies they would like the next government to concentrate on in order to unleash their ambitions and growth for the benefit of all. They include:
1. Investment in faster broadband (31%)
The world's average download speed is 22.1Mbps, with the UK coming in some way ahead of this, at 29.45Mbps. But we still languish behind many of our European peers - with France, Switzerland and Holland achieving upwards of 35Mpbs according to recent survey. For the UK to compete in our hyper-globalised economy, we need to do better.
Digital SMEs that rely on the internet to trade would rightly like to see greater investment in providing superfast broadband to hard-to-reach areas of the UK, levelling the playing field and ensuring everyone is part of the digital economy. Fast, reliable broadband is vital for business growth; not being online is simply not an option in 2015.
In September 2014, the government encouraged businesses in 22 cities across the UK to claim a £3,000 grant to improve internet connectivity. The programme allowed businesses to apply for grants to cover costs of installing faster and better broadband until March 2015.
2. Improved postal and delivery services (27%)
Gone are the days when it took a week-long voyage by sea to ship products across the Atlantic. Air mail has reduced transport times to a matter of hours for smaller goods - much to the benefit of eBay sellers across the globe. But the high costs of international postage as well as the difficulty of delivering to some parts of the world are still seen by many small businesses as a prohibitive barrier to entry. Domestically, the logistics industry is going through a period of consolidation that started with City Link's travails over Christmas. Events like this deprive SMEs of the certainty they need to make decisions. The next government must do more to level the playing field for SMEs by reducing postal costs and improving delivery and logistics services. These diverse businesses are vital to the UK because they are the engine of our growth at home and abroad, with more than 4 in 5 small businesses on eBay in the UK selling internationally.
3. Better advice on setting up and running an online business (17%)
With UK e-commerce set to grow by 18% in 2015, online retailers could be missing out on valuable opportunities due to a lack of skills and knowledge, according to a report by the Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index. Only 50% have a website and on the whole, those that do are only providing basic functionality. With greater government investment in the training and resources available to them, SMEs can become much more competitive - whether that's using e-retail as a basis for all business or to supplement their bricks and mortar offering.
What small businesses have told us is clear. They want more support and more advice. They want government to tackle the issue of postage and shipping costs in order to promote growth - and they want better internet connectivity across the board.
These might not be eye catching new policies - but businesses still care about the fundamentals and the building blocks to success.
We invest in infrastructure and technology that would be too expensive for small businesses to build for themselves: from Click and Collect to our Global Shipping platform. It's time for political parties to listen up and give these entrepreneurial businesses the attention they deserve.