By Martin McTague, National Vice Chair, Policy & Advocacy, FSB
The last few months have challenged the small business community as never before. But coming together with a collective voice will help many come out the other side.
It’s times like these we need each other. I struggle to find the words to sum up how this year has been for small business owners and self-employed.
Difficult? Challenging? Uncertain? Talk about understatements.
For many, it has been frightening, devastating, and unbelievably stressful. But in among all of that, I have also had feelings of pride and optimism in our small business community. There are those who have shown incredible resilience in the face of adversity, those who have found ways of innovating and adapting their businesses, those who have supported their local community.
And in many cases we have supported each other more than ever before, through online events, Facebook groups, and experience-sharing.
At FSB, thousands have stood together to make the voice of small business and the self-employed heard. That has never been more crucial than in the past few months. It proved effective.
Our collective efforts – from volunteers, to those helping our research work, to members joining our local and national support activities – have achieved help and hope for each other in these extraordinary times.
Many of the support schemes the Government rolled out were a result of our collective effort. These have helped many, but by no means everyone. The newly self-employed and directors of limited companies were left out of the main schemes, despite many of them being in financial peril.
There were others who slipped through the cracks, too. For those who did benefit, it was a lifeline. But the reality is that this help is gradually drawing to a close. Grants, furloughing and self-employed support are winding-up; Government-backed loans will need to be repaid; VAT postponements are coming to an end.
For some sectors, such as retail and hospitality, the run-up to Christmas will be crucial.
A nervousness in consumer spending would be devastating. Whatever happens in the coming months, small business owners face a second wave of worry and potential hardship. The Government, devolved administrations and local authorities need to be mindful of this, and respond to circumstances as they unfold. Economic recovery is going to be a long, hard slog. It will only be achieved by making sure as many hard-working, innovative small business entrepreneurs get through this as strongly as possible.
Policies must be focused not just on business survival, but on growth – even in these bleak days. There must be a focus not just on preserving jobs but on job creation; on supporting small firms to adapt and build their digital skills; on recognising in the tax system the contribution small businesses and the self-employed make and the risks they take to achieve that.
But we also have a part to play. We must continue to support each other. We must continue to have a collective voice. Between us, we make up 99 per cent of businesses in the UK. We account for 60 per cent of private sector employment. By sticking together, we benefit not only each other, but the communities we serve and the economy as a whole. There are tough times ahead, but together we can get through this.