Not surprisingly the economy has featured strongly in all of the main party manifestos. There is no denying that we’ve seen promising signs of growth over the last 12 months, but the election has brought with it a degree of uncertainty for the small business community. Therefore it is imperative that any future administration seeks to protect the interests of the small business community and provide a much-needed confidence boost to ensure continued and sustainable growth, regardless of who is in power after May 7th.
Small businesses have played and will continue to play an important role in the ongoing recovery. The fact that they will create over half of all private sector jobs in the next decade means that their views are crucial and are something that politicians and policy makers chose to ignore at their peril.
Fortunately the Forum is pleased to see that the three largest Westminster parties have recognised the importance of the SME community in their manifestos. All are looking to position themselves as small business champions, and were they to take on board the policies our members have highlighted it would mark an important step in this direction.
It is encouraging that the role played by SMEs is being recognised, with across-the-board commitment to crucial policies such as investment in rural broadband, support for apprenticeships and the review of business rates. However, it is clear that our members would like to see clear, practical and realistic policies that can make a real difference to small and medium-sized businesses.
One key area our members would like to see is a renewed commitment to build on the work of the coalition to tackle the ongoing problems facing the UK economy to create an emboldened private sector to drive the economy forward by 2020. Our members feel that policy makers can do this in four main ways; by supporting better finance for business, cutting the cost of compliance, reducing the cost of doing business, and by introducing a range of short- and longer-term measures to support sustainable business growth. A regulator and code of conduct to oversee the relationship between suppliers and retailers, a freeze on business rates and a commitment to faithfully transpose the EU Directive on late payment are just some further key changes our members are calling for.
Other key short term issues our members would like to see tackled in the next two years include:
• Amendments to current legislation to faithfully transpose the EU Directive on late payments
• Removal of the Health and Safety Executive’s Fee for Intervention policy
• A freeze on business rates in the first year and cap at 2% for the remainder of the Parliament. Also moves to make Small Business Rate Relief permanent and automatic, and to carry out an immediate rating assessment with a promise not to subsidise any increase in rates for a business as a consequence
• Removal of the VAT element charged on fuel duty contribution to pump price.
Further down the line there are several key proposals which the Forum would like to see implemented over the term of the next Parliament which would be welcomed by the small business community. These include:
• Setting up an advisory board for the Prompt Payment Code and introducing a robust monitoring system to ensure companies are worth their place on it
• Ensuring the Low Pay Commission gives a two-year National Minimum Wage recommendation to government but avoid further political interference
• Considering excluding small businesses from business rates altogether.
What’s clear is that small businesses will continue to be the engine room of growth in the country’s recovery following one of the worst downturns in living memory. Through providing the right mix of freedom, intervention and support, whichever party is in power following the election can help build on the recovery and ensure sustainable growth for the UK economy.