Opinion: Small business matters

  • 28 Sep 2020

This is our monthly small business column from the regional chair of FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) Northern Ireland, Brendan Kearney

Brendan has been self-employed for the last 44 years mainly across the catering industry. For the past seven years he has led a private medical insurance brokerage and currently employs 14 people. Brendan has been involved with FSB over the last 20 plus years at various levels between branch, policy and regional levels within the organisation

A new term and a new way of doing business

“Back to school” 2020 carried more than the normal end of August rush to replenish pencil cases and measure up for new school shoes. After over five months of ‘home-schooling’ & summer holidays, our students and school staff faced back to the new layouts of classrooms, staggered break times and safety “bubbles”. Undoubtedly, these children have faced incredible upheaval in their normal day-to-day lives with some facing their last term of primary school without proper goodbyes to teachers and friends, many not getting the chance to shine through their exams, and of course the cancellations of holidays, parties and playdates.

The priority to get children back to school and back to childcare has faced much debate and for some businesses, this prioritisation has meant that they remained at the back of the queue for re-opening. We think of the “wet bars” in particular, who have only now been given dates for return to operations. Those sectors along with the likes of the live events, arts-based organisations and wedding service industries are still floundering with no obvious return to normality in sight. Surely then those sectors who are still sacrificing so that our schools and health service are prioritised require some additional support? It is certainly something that FSB in Northern Ireland would like the Executive to take note of and take direct action on, if the public health regulations determine that they should remain closed or their activities should be limited.

We did of course see recent announcements of localised restrictions in areas of Northern Ireland were the infection rate has increased. This too carries indirect implications for business, while the restrictions don’t relate to closure of businesses, it will of course instigate some caution of people travelling into those areas to do business or limit people travelling outside those areas for ‘non-essential’ activity. FSB continues to encourage their members and small businesses across Northern Ireland to adhere to the health & safety guidelines on their premises to reduce the likelihood of further restrictions in other geographical areas, or more intense restrictions being put in place in the areas currently affected.

The simmering debates around Brexit talks moved from the back burner to front and centre and at times boiling point over the past few weeks, with high-intensity political debates the Internal Market Bill and the NI Protocol. It really brings back the enormity of what were pre-Covid dominant news features and serves as a reminder to businesses that they need to take a look at their planning for the post-transition landscape in January 2021. There still is so much uncertainty but now is the time to look at things like supply chains, transport & logistics and labour to see how they might be affected in your organisation. In just under sixteen weeks, we will have a new operating landscape and while so much is in the air, businesses need to keep a level head and take a pragmatic approach to making their preparations. Some simple steps include registering for the Trader Support Service, applying for an EORI number if required, looking at your data flows and who you need to speak to upwards and downwards in your supply chain, communicate with your logistics companies and take advantage of the support of InterTrade Ireland’s Brexit planning vouchers.

On the labour element of Brexit planning, as a small business are you aware of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) and how it affects you and your employees? There are steps you should take now to protect yourself as a responsible employer and protect your employees' right to reside and work in Northern Ireland by encouraging them to register to the scheme. Such is the importance of this, we have organised a virtual support event on Thursday 24th to give small businesses who employ EU/EEA and Swiss citizens the opportunity to find out about EUSS and what they should do at this point. Details on registration for this event can be found on www.fsb.org.uk or on our social media platforms. This is not a time to sit back and wait to see what happens, it is the moment to take the time and use the information you do have to make your ‘Brexit plan’.

There is no doubt that this year has been a taxing, anxious and turbulent one for small businesses with an uncertain few months ahead; but we implore you take a calm and measured approach and that you keep yourself as informed and up-to-date with developments as you can. Our policy and support teams will continue to seek clarity and answers to allow you make these informed decisions and actions and we encourage you to engage with FSB so we remain entirely in touch with the opinions and attitudes of the small business community here.

Please feel free to contact us with topics you would like this column to cover or for general feedback on the small business issues FSB Northern Ireland should be working on by emailing [email protected] or contacting your local Development Manager [email protected]. The special Covid Hub on www.fsb.org.uk has relevant resources and information available for all small businesses and the self-employed. Our members have full access to the legal hub and 24/7 employment & legal helpline for guidance and advice.