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Opinion: Getting the best of Brexit for small businesses


The first three months of this year will be dominated by the push to trigger Article 50. FSB will be ensuring Government understands the concerns of small firms, writes Martin McTague, FSB Policy Director.

The political agenda and focus for FSB over the next few months is likely to be dominated by Brexit, as the Government prepares to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

Our response to this has been to run the biggest membership consultation we’ve ever undertaken, and we’ll be announcing the initial results soon, to be promptly followed by detailed policy reports. There has been a good response, with members participating through focus groups, town hall meetings and conventional surveys. We’re trying to get the best possible evidence to present to Government, so that we have maximum impact in lobbying for our members.

Our focus is on four main areas: markets, access to skills and labour, funding, and regulation. On markets, we will address the cost and ease of doing business for our members within the European single market and non-EU markets. This is to ensure that when the Government enters negotiations, it’s fully aware of the potential implications for our members.

Our research will also help us to find out how small businesses in the UK employ non-UK, EEA workers and how they think exiting the EU will affect their ability to find and employ workers with the skills they need. We want to build a strong evidence base that will inform Government of small businesses’ concerns on accessing labour and skills, and on being able to travel to the EU for short-term work or assignment purposes.

We also know many of our members rely on business support and access to finance schemes backed by EU funds. Losing access to these funds could have an impact on these areas. Although existing EU funding commitments will be honoured, subject to two additional tests, we are focusing on what the future of business support and finance schemes will look like once we have exited the EU.

Regulation is another focus. We have welcomed the announcement of the Great Repeal Bill and the inference that there will be a period of regulatory certainty for our members until the point at which we leave. Beyond this point, we are keen to explore the trade-offs, including those associated with regulatory divergence. The potential to improve domestic productivity must be balanced against any negative impact on opportunities to export.

Aside from Brexit, the run-up to Christmas also saw the final Autumn Statement, and we were pleased with its direction. We had been concerned about potential backtracking on the commitment to remove more than £6.7 billion from the business rates system, so we were pleased to see that confirmed. The removal of the anomaly in small business rates relief for rural communities will also affect members in these areas.

We have also managed to influence the Prime Minister’s corporate governance agenda. While this has focused on larger firms, we have got into a new green paper an option for every large company to designate a director to represent the voice of suppliers at a board-level committee, and promote good supply chain practice. Board-level visibility of poor payment practice, including late payments, is particularly important. This option needs to be shored up, alongside the new duty to report on payment practice that we have pressed for, which will come into force in April.

Martin McTague is Policy Director at FSB