Dragons’ Den star and former Tory donor endorses Labour

Theo Paphitis (C) recently joined Sir Keir Starmer on the General Election campaign trail
Theo Paphitis (C) recently joined Sir Keir Starmer on the General Election campaign trail - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Theo Paphitis, an ex-Dragons’ Den star and former Conservative donor, has announced he is backing Labour – but has not given them any money.

Mr Paphitis said he had instead decided to give Labour “my time” by joining Sir Keir Starmer on the campaign trail.

In an article for The Telegraph, the multimillionaire businessman said that he had decided to support Labour because the Tories had “consistently ignored” small enterprises and he approved of shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’s plan to overhaul “grossly unfair” business rates.

Mr Paphitis owns the stationery chain Ryman, as well as homeware retailer Robert Dyas, and spent eight years as an investor on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

He voted Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum and donated money to the Conservatives in 2017 and 2015, as well as to the Liberal Democrats in 2013.

As part of the General Election campaign trail, the Labour Party leader and Dragon's Den star visited the Hampshire School of Jewellery in Basingstoke
As part of the General Election campaign trail, the Labour Party leader and Dragon's Den star visited the Hampshire School of Jewellery in Basingstoke - Stefan Rousseau/PA

On Tuesday, he announced he would be supporting Labour in the election, joining Sir Keir on a walkabout in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

However, when asked by journalists how much money he had given to Labour, he said: “It might be zilch at the moment.

“I’m a believer in action speaks louder than words and the action is I’ve given my time.”

He added: “Lots of people just give money, I’ve given my time.”

When asked about how he now felt about Brexit, Mr Paphitis said “I found myself agreeing with Nigel Farage” that “Brexit didn’t fail, it is the government, the politicians who failed”.

He also told journalists that Margaret Thatcher was his “first taste” of politics and that she had “attracted” him to the Conservatives with her crusade to deregulate the economy.

However, he went on to say that the modern Tory Party had “forgotten about the reason they exist” – to grow the economy.

Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Paphitis said that while small business entrepreneurs are “the lifeblood of the economy”, they had been “consistently ignored by the current government”.

“So many businesses have gone under, and particularly on our high streets the burden of the UK’s unfair and archaic business rates system has fallen on those who have managed to survive and has become a barrier to survival in many cases,” he said.

“It’s a tax which damages investment, damages entrepreneurship in this country, and ultimately damages local communities.”

Mr Paphitis has said that Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are 'making the right noises' and their manifesto 'promises to tackle some of the biggest obstacles facing Britain's small business entrepreneurs'
Mr Paphitis has said that Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are 'making the right noises' and their manifesto 'promises to tackle some of the biggest obstacles facing Britain's small business entrepreneurs' - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Mr Paphitis said the “barmy” business rates system was a “grossly unfair weight on the shops, offices, pubs and factories that should be supported to drive the UK’s economic recovery”.

But he added that the Tories had “consistently ignored the opportunities to reform” business rates during their 14 years in power, choosing instead to spend “most of that time looking inwards and ripping themselves apart instead of looking after the electorate and the economy”, which was “nothing short of a national scandal”.

He said that it was “disappointing” that the party had not extended an “olive branch” on business rates in this election.

“I and the country I’m sure, are tired and fatigued by the economic inactivity, especially this last parliamentary term,” he said. “We have a chance for stability which will transform the business environment, so we should not waste this opportunity.

“On this issue, Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are making the right noises and their manifesto promises to tackle some of the biggest obstacles facing Britain’s small business entrepreneurs, like replacing business rates, stamping out late payment of invoices and giving small businesses a fairer chance to bid for public contracts.”

Mr Paphitis also said Labour’s support for “banking hubs” providing face-to-face services on the high street was also “welcome”.

He said: “Rachel Reeves’s promise to combine these plans with serious economic credibility and an overarching mission for growth, would be a breath of fresh air, if the hard yards are done behind the words.

“Labour is making all the right noises to revitalise small business and most importantly, the communities they serve, ideally boosting the economy and getting the UK business community back on track.

“I believe in actions speaking louder than words. On business rates and support for small businesses, Labour’s initiatives stand out and provide the stability that businesses need.

“I have publicly stated my vote is up for grabs, but right now, Labour has my support with policies that are far more compelling.”


Labour is making all the right noises to revitalise small businesses

By Theo Paphitis

Small business entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy but they have been consistently ignored by the current government. Retailers and business owners aren’t looking for handouts that would distort the market, just proper support that provides access to finance; support for fledgling companies and the right economic environment for growth – which surely should be the role of any serious government.

When I first started out, I was a very small business — just me and a young, first-time job entrant I hired from the local job centre to help me with typing and spelling due to my dyslexia. So I know how hard it is to keep going, and the difficulties small businesses face.

That’s why I launched #SBS Small Business Sunday, my free networking group for small businesses with over 4,000 businesses in the community. Every Sunday evening since 2010, I’ve encouraged small businesses to pitch to our community – and we’ve seen some incredible success stories. But what keeps me up at night is those who aren’t given the chance to go the distance. In fact, over 50 per cent of new businesses fail in the first three years.

The ex-Dragons' Den star is also a former Conservative donor
The ex-Dragons' Den star is also a former Conservative donor - Jeff Gilbert

So many businesses have gone under and, particularly on our high streets, the burden of the UK’s unfair and archaic business rates system has fallen on those who have managed to sustain themselves and has become a barrier to survival in many cases. It’s a tax which damages investment, entrepreneurship in this country and, ultimately, local communities.

We desperately need growth from the grassroots up in this country because growing our businesses means growing the economy, creating wealth and thus contributing more to the exchequer enabling us to pay for vital public services that have seriously deteriorated.

Yet many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are being hammered by a tax system that is completely outdated and unfit for any modern economy and also hampers growth – meaning the exchequer actually gets less. That’s got to be a barmy tax!

Business rates are a grossly unfair weight on the shops, offices, pubs and factories that should be supported to drive the UK’s economic recovery. The Conservatives have consistently ignored the opportunities to reform the business rates system in 14 years of power and spent most of that time looking inward and ripping themselves apart, instead of looking after the electorate and the economy. This is nothing short of a national scandal.

I have also not seen any business rates ‘olive branch’ offers extended in their election promises this time which is disappointing. I and the country, I’m sure, are tired and fatigued by the economic inactivity – especially this last parliamentary term. We have a chance for stability which will transform the business environment, so we should not waste this opportunity.

On this issue, Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are making the right noises and their manifesto promises to tackle some of the biggest obstacles facing Britain’s small business entrepreneurs – like replacing business rates, stamping out late payment of invoices and giving small businesses a fairer chance to bid for public contracts.

Mr Paphitis says 'Labour's initiatives stand out and provide the stability that businesses need'
Mr Paphitis says 'Labour's initiatives stand out and provide the stability that businesses need' - Stefan Rousseau/PA

If you’ve ever run a business, you know how frustrating it is when large businesses fail to pay you on time. Making sure at least one SME is shortlisted when smaller government contracts go to tender will open up the opportunities small business entrepreneurs deserve and need in order to grow.

Labour’s support for banking hubs will be welcome news to the kind of grassroots SMEs taking part in #SBS Small Business Sunday. Their plan to guarantee that these companies will have access to banking services and finance on their high street is a positive one. Retail is detail – and I hope that these are real, practical plans for change.

Rachel Reeves’s promise to combine these plans with serious economic credibility and an overarching mission for growth would be a breath of fresh air – if the hard yards are done behind the words.

Labour is making all the right noises to revitalise small businesses and, most importantly, the communities they serve – ideally boosting the economy and getting the UK business community back on track. I believe in actions speaking louder than words.

On business rates and support for small companies, Labour’s initiatives stand out and provide the stability that businesses need. I have publicly stated my vote is up for grabs but, right now, Labour has my support with policies that are far more compelling.