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Small firms call for support from fresh £2 billion Brexit fund

Responding to the outlining of a one-year Spending Round by the Chancellor Sajid Javid, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry, said:

“This Spending Round marks a welcome – if brief – return to the domestic agenda. While parliament has long-been absorbed by Brexit, the issues of crime, derisory broadband and skills shortages that millions of small firms face day in, day out have been overlooked.   

“It’s important to stress that what small firms really want is a return to an environment where they can plan for the long-term, and policymakers consistently tackle domestic challenges head on. With the latest UK economic data painting a bleak picture, small businesses urgently need tangible support on the ground.

“The additional £2 billion set aside for no-deal preparedness must reach those who need it most, not least the small firms that make-up 99 per cent of our economy. An extra £60 million for the GREAT initiative is helpful, but we urgently need to see the introduction of £3,000 Brexit vouchers alongside targeted support for exporters directly impacted by persistent uncertainty.   

“Over the months ahead, more radical interventions as part of an Emergency Budget will be needed to stave off the impacts of prolonged uncertainty: uprating of the Employment Allowance, HMRC leniency and a delay to planned IR35 changes.      

“Rising crime is a massive concern for the UK small business community, collectively costing small businesses billions of pounds a year. While the promise of 20,000 new bobbies on the beat is welcome, this should be a starting point for investment – there is far more work to do to raise the number of police officers in England and Wales up to the EU average per 100,000 people.

“It’s encouraging to see the Government listening to our recommendations regarding broadband, directly acknowledging the challenges faced by small business in this area. The commitment to full fibre access for all by 2025 is welcome. We now need to see a cast-iron guarantee that no firm will face download speeds of less than 10Mbps by the end of 2021, regardless of requests made under the Universal Service Obligation.

“The Chancellor is absolutely right to address the stop-start approach to infrastructure that is holding our economy back. It’s vital that this Government pushes on with HS2, Heathrow expansion, Crossrail and ambitious investment in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine. Reiteration of commitment to a fit-for-purpose Manchester to Leeds rail route is good to hear.

   

“While additional funding for further education institutions is welcome – and crucial to the successful roll-out of T Levels – it was disappointing that the Chancellor neglected to address the importance of apprenticeships in his speech.

“There have been 100,000 fewer apprenticeship starts over the past year compared to two years ago when the apprenticeship levy was yet to be introduced. Apprenticeship levy funding will soon be exhausted. It is essential that non levy-paying smaller businesses continue to receive funding to offer the apprenticeships that secure young people’s futures, address our chronic skills shortages and ensure our economy flourishes.”