They say it’s good to talk. And, with Brexit, it’s not just good, it’s absolutely vital – to make sure whatever deals are done work for small businesses. So, as the political negotiations take place in Brussels, FSB is making the small business voice heard loud and clear both in the UK and the EU.
Hard-working entrepreneurs are the backbone of the UK economy, and it’s my job to make sure the politicians know that – and how vital those businesses will be in making a success of Brexit.
There’s been a lot of coverage in recent months about ministers holding top-level meetings with business leaders. FSB Policy Chairman Mike Cherry and I have been determined that small businesses must be represented equally alongside the big corporates. And so between us – and I hope I’m not spilling too many secrets – we’ve been securing our seats at the top tables, putting the interests of our members firmly on the agenda.
While Mike was at Downing Street talking to the Prime Minister, I was in the grandeur of Chevening – a Government-owned stately home in Kent – pushing our case with leading cabinet ministers such as Brexit Secretary David Davis and Business Secretary Greg Clark.
My discussion with David Davis was hugely encouraging, as he told me he placed the interests of small firms above the wish lists of the giant corporates. Why did he say that?
Because ambitious, striving smaller businesses have far less capacity than big ones to overcome high tariffs and time-consuming bureaucracy in international trade.
But it’s not just about international trade, as important as that is. It’s about small businesses accessing the workers and skills that they need, and UK regions that have benefited from EU funding not facing a cliff-edge on investment and financing.
And those are the points we’ve been making to key decision-makers. Mike and I have had many meetings in Westminster and Brussels, and many other members have played a crucial part in engagement in all parts of UK politics.
This is not about us enjoying the canapés and rubbing shoulder pads with the powerful. This is about us getting the small business voice heard everywhere it matters.
Decision-makers must also keep in mind that, whatever the Brexit negotiations lead to, the economy will only benefit if small businesses are supported. That won’t happen if they have obstacles thrown in their way in the form of extra taxes or administrative burdens.
That includes everything from National Insurance to the taxes charged on actual insurance products. It includes sorting out the unfit-for-purpose business rates system. It includes supporting small firms by awarding them contracts for publicly-funded projects.
And it includes new steps to protect them from the scourge of poor payment practices by some of the bigger businesses they supply, leaving them starved of cash for months on end and therefore unable to invest. These priorities would help pave the way for small firms to thrive and grow at home as we approach a post-Brexit world.