SMEs have had enough of red tape and punitive policies: The government needs to listen

Emma Jones
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Spare The Rod
Government has been pointing the finger at the firms busy employing 60 per cent of the UK's workforce (Source: Getty)

Tomorrow night, a room filled with small business founders, startups and self-employed individuals will nervously take their seats as politicians from the major parties discuss their small business policies at Enterprise Nation’s The General Election Small Business Debate.

I say nervously deliberately because there is no doubt that this generation of entrepreneurs is not feeling the love from the hallowed halls of power.

It all started before the snap election was called, with the Conservative’s National Insurance for the self-employed gaff in the Budget, which then saw a swift (and presumably temporary) u-turn. Will it be back on the agenda very soon? Undoubtedly.

Moving on to the Tory’s latest announcement – the so-called “greatest expansion of worker rights” – this is another sign the powers that be think evil employers have had their cake and eaten it, possibly while cooking the books and greedily portioning up the stockpiles of un-taxed cash under the mattress.

Add to that the Labour Party’s proposal to create a ministry of labour, its plan to add on extra public holidays, and the much-anticipated (and leaked) Matthew Taylor review into the modern world of work, and you could be forgiven for wondering what Britain’s independent businesses have done to deserve this treatment.

The country’s 5.2m SMEs have been busy employing 60 per cent of the workforce and turning over £1.8 trillion. They’ve also been running around offering their 15.7m employees a pension. Oh, and dealing admirably with the turbulence and uncertainty caused by Brexit. Shame on them.

What do small businesses want to see in political manifestos?

At Enterprise Nation, our members say a government that listens and is supportive of small businesses and the way they work would be a start. An informed and sympathetic party that doesn’t just pay lip service to big business can make all the difference, lift the mood, and help to build success for all.

They also want to see a simplified taxation system (no, we’re not saying less tax), the government to lead on procurement from small businesses, to support collaborative working, and incentivise and support global expansion for smaller firms.

What about help from the government with the cost of training? Surely, providing a workforce that’s equipped for enterprise with digital competence is the government’s job? As is ensuring fast broadband speeds and good infrastructure.

The government’s role is to maintain confidence in the economy. It needs to focus on the job of creating the right conditions for economic success, and then let business do the rest. It should not be pointing accusatory fingers at those trying to build and grow firms; it’s hard enough as it is.

It feels like government doesn’t know that small firms speak to their staff. As astonishing as it may seem, businesses understand the issues that affect them, and there is no need for more formal, government-driven statutory rights and regulations.

When you’re all working together, or you’re collaborating on a contract, wasting time making sure you’ve ticked some unnecessary boxes is counter-productive. There must be flexibility. If, for example, there is a member of staff with an elderly relative to care for, smaller firms will have recognised this already and done what they can reasonably afford to do to help out.

Meanwhile, the 4.2m self-employed are waiting for the clarity they so desperately need on sick pay, rights to pensions and maternity pay.

The next government should take the sensible option and ask small businesses what they need before jumping on the employee rights bandwagon. Tomorrow night, they may learn a thing or two.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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