Catch up on the big issues in this week’s Small Business Bites. We cut through the noise to dig out stories that really matter to UK small business owners, from the last month. Here’s our roundup of things you need to know.
New business rates could make 2017 a tough year for small businesses
Business rates in the UK are set to change for the first time in 7 years, and many small business owners have voiced their concern. Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey has called the new rates a ‘ticking time bomb‘, while Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has recognised the need for the government to provide support to the worst affected businesses.
The debate has been accompanied by a report from the Federation of Small Business (FSB), who surveyed 675 of their members to see how the news was being received. The survey showed that, while the majority of businesses did not expect a rates increase, a significant minority (36%), did. Importantly, 44% of respondents also said they expected bills to eventually rise by almost £1000 a year.
Mike Cherry, the national chairman of the FSB, said: “The costs of doing business for small firms are now at their highest levels since early 2014. The last thing we need is a business rates burden so heavy that it threatens the future growth prospects of our entrepreneurs.”
Deputy policy director at the Institute of Directors, Andrew Silvester, commented: “This is a 20th century system and in a 21st century economy, it looks painfully out of date.”
However, Javid was keen to remind businesses that the Conservatives are listening to them: “I have always listened to businesses, and this situation is no exception. It’s clear to me that more needs to be done to level the playing field and to make the system fairer.”
Further announcements are expected at the time of the Spring 2017 Budget.
Businesses call for more to be done to help with the rising costs of employment
Another issue in the lead up to the budget is the rising cost of employment. The FSB has warned that the cost of employment could rise by £2,600 , and has urged chancellor Philip Hammond to use the budget to help small businesses deal with the costs.
The costs, which were calculated for the 2017/18 tax year, factor in the increase in the national living wage (resulting in increasing national insurance contributions), and the added effects of pension auto-enrolment.
FSB national chairman Mike Cherry shared his thoughts with City AM: “Spring Budget 2017 is a critical moment for the government to show it is unashamedly pro-business, and that the chancellor recognises that small businesses are the engines of job creation. Spiralling labour costs are now threatening their growth ambitions and hiring intentions. The Employment Allowance, created under the previous administration, has been a hue success and now it is time for this government to build on that, and help us to create the new jobs and growth that this country needs.”
Further to their concerns regarding employment, the FSB has urged the chancellor to consider how the budget can encourage more people to set up businesses and become self-employed. They have asked for “a statutory definition of self-employment, changes to the social security system Universal Credit to be responsive to income fluctuations, and incentives to help the self-employed pay for their retirement.”
Government commitment to faster broadband backed up by rural ‘broadband vouchers’
There is some good news for small businesses ahead of the budget, as new proposals recommend offering broadband vouchers of up to £3,000 to help companies in areas of poor internet connections to afford better broadband.
In February 2016, then business secretary Sajid Javid promised to improve the quality and accessibility of UK business broadband.
At the time, Javid said: “I want Britain to be at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution and to lead the world in innovation. Developing new technologies, an extensive digital infrastructure, vibrant competition and consumer choice are all vital for UK businesses and central to the UK being at the forefront of ‘Industry 4.0’.”
The idea of the voucher scheme is to encourage businesses to join together to spend their vouchers, making it a more attractive prospect for broadband providers.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Conservative MP who chairs a parliamentary broadband group, said: “Every party in the UK has been saying this needs to be rolled out as fast as possible. It is hugely important and absolutely vital.
“The percentage of people who now work at home in rural areas is going up massively. Small businesses nowadays have to have high-speed broadband. You can’t run a business without it.”