Responding to the setting out of the Government’s legislative agenda during today’s State Opening of Parliament, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry, said:
“Today’s Queen’s Speech serves as a stark reminder of the many domestic challenges that have been neglected over the past three years as Brexit has absorbed government bandwidth. There are proposals to welcome within the Bills unveiled today but – unless we reinject some stability into parliamentary proceedings – they may never become reality. Concrete action is needed at the upcoming Budget to help small firms handle spiralling costs linked to business rates and employment.
“We have the legislation to enable Brexit, we now need to see negotiators pulling out all the stops this week to reach an agreement that secures a transition period, protects access to trade and skills, and can command a majority in the Commons. Small business owners are sick to the back teeth of uncertainty.
“The Environment Bill marks an important step forward. Small businesses want to play their part in ensuring plastic-free oceans and better air quality but often don’t know where to start, or lack the resources to green their operations as much as they’d like. Setting realistic long-term targets in this space is critical. Small firms need support and the right incentives to take this agenda forward. There are easy wins to be had, not least the removal of business rates on solar panels.
“One in five small employers rely on staff from the EU, with many European employees falling outside the traditional definition of ‘high-skilled’. The Government should be leaving EU citizens in no doubt about their right to remain after Brexit. Uncertainty has been rife in this area, with small firms left in the dark as to how our immigration system will work post-Brexit. The publishing of today’s Immigration Bill provides more of a steer as to what the future could hold, and it’s vital that the formation of a new system from 2021 is evidence-led, with small businesses thoroughly consulted on fresh measures.
“Crime costs the small business community more than £15 billion a year. Sentencing was the focus of today’s announcements in this area but more must be done to prevent the scourge of business crime. The Government’s commitments on this front fall short of the mark and – even if enacted – would still leave us well short compared to our European peers when it comes to average number of officers per capita.
“Ambition regarding our national infrastructure has been found wanting in recent decades. The infrastructure strategy must end the dithering over projects that really matter, not least HS2 and Heathrow expansion. The ramping-up of broadband investment is vital – more small firms need access to full-fibre – as is a significant strengthening of our mobile connectivity.
“The Pensions Bill is also welcome – promising to deliver the pension dashboards that will help our 4.9 million-strong self-employed community to save responsibly for the future.
“With confidence within the small business community suffering an unprecedented negative streak – and costs spiralling – the Budget on 6 November must include radical measures to arrest this sustained pessimism. Small businesses want to see wider business rates reform and a significant uprating of the small business discount on national insurance bills available through the Employment Allowance.”