Dear Anna Soubry,
Congratulations! I’m delighted at the Conservatives’ win and also that David Cameron has appointed a woman with a reputation for tough talking as the minister for small business.
The UK’s 5.2m SMEs account for more than half of employment (60 per cent) and nearly half of turnover (47 per cent) in the private sector and we need to feel our voice counts. I’m sure your inbox is already overflowing but here is my take on the most pressing issues facing SMEs and startups which are looking to the new Conservative government to create a vibrant entrepreneurial culture and increase the UK’s commercial competitiveness.
First off, reforming our over-complicated burdensome tax regime is crucial if small businesses are to survive and thrive. Business rates are top of the list here: among the highest in Europe they place a massive and unfair burden particularly on small high street shops. A thorough overhaul is needed which should include whether rates need be linked to the consumer price index measure of inflation rather than the retail price index which has been higher of late.
Let’s help businesses make savings that each can pass on to consumers and accelerate the recovery. However please leave corporation tax at 20 per cent – the lowest rate in Europe – or preferably reduce it further. Low rates of corporation tax play a key role in attracting investment and reducing unemployment.
Speaking of employment, Cameron’s pledge to introduce 50,000 new apprenticeships really resonated with me, as I left school at 16. Reputable apprenticeship schemes offer a cost effective resource for small businesses and an opportunity for young people who might not thrive in academia to learn valuable lessons about entrepreneurialism and hard work. Latest figures reveal apprenticeships contributed £34bn to the UK economy in 2014, which suggests they are well worth investing in.
Anna Soubry is known for her "formidable" speaking skills
I’d love to see the day when apprenticeships have the same kudos as a university degree and I’d urge you to continue the good work of the Richards Review which is making great headway in driving up the standard of apprenticeships, particularly in relation to levels of maths and literacy. Not only that, the review also championed business involvement in designing the standards and assessments for each sector, which is an important common sense step.
Cameron’s EU referendum pledge is one of the few issues I disagree with him on, although I understand why he had to do it. We need to belong to the EU but one that is radically reformed. Small businesses, especially those that don’t export to Europe, are particularly vulnerable to onerous EU regulation and red tape. We need an outspoken advocate who can investigate which EU laws/regulations are particularly unfair on SMEs, help us to be heard in Brussels and where there doesn’t work, lobby for the freedom to "opt out" from over-burdensome regulation.
While boardroom diversity within FTSE companies is an issue for business secretary Sajid Javid, I’d like to see the same message rolled out to SMEs too. My sense is that the widely varied nature of SMEs means they are intrinsically diverse – is this something your department could research? Most SMEs have the ambition to grow and it’s important that they are encouraged to follow diversity best practice and show bigger companies how it’s done. As minister for small business you are well placed to lead the charge on this issue.
That’s it for now. Wishing you the best of luck in the new role – the small business community looks forward to working with you to our mutual benefit.
CEO Astus Group