Small business and the government: this is what we need to happen next

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Over the past five years, the UK has become one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business. The latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor put the UK at number one in Europe and number four globally. This was not random.

This was the result of the comparatively low costs of startup entry here, accessible technology, a flexible economy and a positive attitude towards self-starters and entrepreneurship; from the media, large corporates and government.

If these key factors do not continue, then we are in danger of losing that momentum - and pole entrepreneurial position in the EU. The creation of an entrepreneurial culture is not just about economics: the huge growth in company registrations that happened between 2011 and 2015 was not, as experts suggested, entirely about a squeezed economy and the backdrop of recession.

It was a heady mix of technological opportunity, awareness, acceptance - and it also was a lot to do with the government’s enthusiastic and widely-reported embrace of the dynamic startup culture.

With Brexit on the horizon and new faces in charge of business legislation in government, added to the fact that there’s a lot to get through in the next two years, 14 groups representing businesses of all shapes and sizes have come together to form the Small Business Taskforce. Its primary purpose is to remind the government how strong the British spirit of enterprise is - and how committed we are to ensuring the UK retains this leading global entrepreneurship position.

Our alliance comprises the Forum of Private Business, Enterprise Nation, the ICAEW, the RSA, Coadec, The Entrepreneurs Network, the Centre for Entrepreneurs, EISA, IPSE, GEW, National Enterprise Network, Bright Ideas Trust, NACUE and Social Enterprise UK.

This diverse group includes think tanks, research bodies, coders, social enterprises, the self-employed as well as small business groups.

Together, we represent over a million businesses and recognise that there are key factors that have enabled them to flourish. We want to know that those negotiating Britain’s future can ensure these conditions remain in place, as Brexit deals are negotiated and a new government makes its mark. To achieve that, we feel work and commitment is required around:

1. Flexible workforce  

We want a clear and unequivocal reaffirmation of the long-term residence rights of EU citizens currently working in the UK. Small businesses are more likely to use part-time, seasonal workers from the EU. They need this to continue. They also need a flexible labour market. This does not mean the introduction of work permits. Imagine being a small business owner, organising to comply with new tax reporting, auto enrolment, recruiting staff from the EU, then applying for dozens of work permits from 27 countries, all at the busiest time of the year? This model might work for big business with HR departments. But not for us.

We want a market that’s flexible both ways. This means being able to continue to work in Europe - without having to apply for cumbersome and uncertain work permits first.

2. Workable tax regime

While the Government has already committed to lowering Corporation Tax, we’re calling for a commitment to no increases to National Insurance, and agreement from BEIS and HMRC that consultation will continue to be carried out with those representing small firms ahead of introducing any further tax changes.

Small firms need tax to be as simple as possible as it’s often the founder who is handling this, using the information to budget on future growth expenditure. For a small business, any new tax detail will be met, not with a finance meeting and a powerpoint to the board, it’s more likely to be a roll of the eyes, a cancelled lunch break and less on-going investment.

3. Accessible business support

Research suggests those that get professional advice in the early stages build more successful and sustainable businesses. Many of the small business support schemes that have historically existed have been underpinned by EU funds. We would like to see a review of funding that’s been set aside for business support and government plans for expenditure around this.

4. International trade for all

One in five small firms currently exports. Exporting increases productivity and leads to employment and growth. And, with commentators telling us we need to get exporting to bridge the trade gap, we would like to see more oomph given to support for small firms at this critical time. Export Vouchers and Export Tax Credits would be absolutely transformative to small companies rather than a general online portal accessed by all.

5. Consultation with small business

The idea of the Taskforce is to make it easier for the Government to consult small business. We’re committed to making sure the Government has all the information it needs to make decisions that benefit all of the British business community, not just the few at the top.

Source: Emma Jones Founder of Enterprise Nation

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