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Small business owners' consultation gives us answers on Brexit

Opinion-May-June-Detail

FSB’s biggest-ever member consultation is helping us ensure the concerns of small businesses are being heard in the run-up to leaving the EU, writes Martin McTague, Policy Director at FSB.

In the run-up to triggering Article 50, Brexit has been a major focus for FSB. We have conducted our biggest consultation ever, holding meetings all over the UK and carrying out surveys with thousands of members, the initial findings of which are outlined here

This research has helped to shape our lobbying. Any potential UK/EU free trade agreement must take into consideration the voice of small business. Simple access to markets such as the single market is crucial, and we need to avoid the creation of non-tariff barriers and unnecessary paperwork for issues such as the origin of products. Any arrangement will also need to pass the test of whether it will work in Ireland, with its border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

There was a clear steer on labour, as well. We simply don’t have enough people with mid-tier skills, and this could lead to a cliff-edge where UK firms can’t get access to the people they need. 

Business support, underpinned by European structural funds, is also a big topic, and we’re advising Government on the replacement of such funding. Simple regulation following our departure from the EU is also essential, and the results of our member research into that area will be out shortly. 

Away from Brexit, we pushed for several measures in the run-up to the recent Budget, which took place after the previous First Voice went to print. We called for a statutory definition of ‘self-employed’, so we could better protect this group and lobby on their behalf. Other issues we highlighted included insurance premium tax and fuel duty; non-domestic rates, where we believe the Government needs to look again at those facing steep rises, including in London; and the employment allowance, which needs to be increased to help companies offset the rise in the National Living Wage.

We also think the Government could do more to help small firms innovate, grow and improve their productivity through research and development tax credits, and potentially through a refreshed Small Business Research Initiative and the new Industrial Challenge Fund.

Elsewhere, we have been urging the Government to pull back from the unrealistic implementation timetable for its Making Tax Digital plans. We are also pushing to raise the exemption threshold to take even more small firms out of the incoming regime, and secure special help for those who will find the system hardest to 
cope with.

The government’s Industrial Strategy, which includes a pledge to shift decision-making to a more local level through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), has also been a focus. We’ve been calling for reforms to how these are run, and were pleased to see the proposal to review the role of LEPs in the Industrial Strategy. 

We will also have the architect of the new Industrial Strategy, Business Secretary Greg Clark, speaking to members at the upcoming National Business Show in Torquay on 23-25 March, alongside Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. Members will also be able to hear the latest developments from FSB’s work on Brexit. I look forward to seeing you there.