Skip To The Main Content

London small business owners face triple whammy of Brexit, ULEZ and the ending of rate relief

By Sue Terpilowski OBE, FSB London Policy Chair

‘A week is a long time in politics’ is a famous adage by former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, however, it is apparent that a week and a half will be a very long time in the world of small businesses between March 29th 2019 and the 8th April 2019.

Small business owners are used to being nimble, adapting to circumstances and making the most of opportunities. They are creative and entrepreneurial.

And yet as we head through winter and into early spring, small business confidence in London is low and needs lifting.

With our departure from the European Union scheduled for the 29th March, the lack of clarity about what kind of Brexit they should prepare for, is affecting the ability of small firms in London to make critical investment decisions. Many small businesses would be adversely impacted by a chaotic no deal exit. It is vital that there is a transition period, to give smaller firms time to adapt to whatever the final outcome turns out to be.

The other book end will be the 8th April as London businesses prepare themselves for the launch of the Mayor of London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

Whilst we are highly supportive of measures to improve London’s air quality, and in particular the Mayor’s announcement of a Diesel Scrappage scheme for micro businesses; many plumbers, coach companies, delivery companies and service related businesses that I have spoken to still have a low level of awareness of the ULEZ scheme. 

With 63 per cent of our members stating that the ULEZ will raise operating costs, we urge the Mayor not to be heavy-handed with the launch and work with small business that need the time to change their vehicles. A relentless focus by TfL on communicating the message over the next few months is critical – we want to start seeing those ULEZ messages at the pumps where businesses fill up their vehicles! 

The sandwich filling in the middle of Brexit and the ULEZ will be the start of the new financial year in April. Small businesses will see a whole host of changes, leading to higher costs and greater bureaucracy for many small firms – from a National Living Wage and Pension auto-enrolment increases to the rollout of quarterly, online tax reporting for VAT-registered firms.

We also need to remember that many small firms in London will see previous business rate reliefs taper off, and therefore higher bills from this out-dated tax, coupled with the difficulties of accessing affordable workspace. 

But there are opportunities for small businesses – and they will continue to take them with the right signals from policymakers.

Longer term, whatever happens with Brexit, we already have one-in-five small businesses in London exporting and growing their business through overseas trade.

This could be doubled with the right support at National and Mayoral level to encourage them to take that bold step.

Making it easier to take on Apprentices through reducing the levels of bureaucracy will increase starts in London. The government could help smaller businesses with an employer National Insurance holiday for those who employ people furthest from work.

Even in these uncertain times, there are lots of ways in which London’s 1.1million small businesses can be encouraged and supported to thrive and grow. This is absolutely vital for London PLC. It’s time for politicians to remind themselves of this, and stop spending so much time on political infighting at the expense of the domestic agenda.