I always think it’s important in business to keep your eye on the ball and the goal you’re aiming at, to keep focused on what’s ahead rather than on what’s already happened, writes FSB policy director Martin McTague.
When the June general election produced the shock result of a minority government, it would have been easy to get distracted by all the political fallout.
But in FSB’s Westminster team, we were determined to keep our focus squarely on the interests of small businesses and the self-employed, and on the challenges to both Brexit and domestic policies we had set politicians before the election.
We are in a period of great change to the UK’s future place in the world. The Brexit talks bring with them huge questions around the future of trade, immigration, and unpicking the many ties with the EU that have built up over the years – the laws, the regulations, the funding. Brexit gives the UK plenty of opportunities alongside the risks. But the next couple of years of shaping that future through the negotiations could be, in the football parlance, squeaky bum time.
Amid all of this, why should those in power care about the interests of the UK’s small businesses? My answer is simple: there are 5.5 million of them and making a success of Brexit depends upon them.
FSB is using its unrivalled links at the very highest political levels to make sure decision-makers in Westminster, and in the EU while we remain a member, know how vital it is to support small businesses and the self-employed.
The groundwork has been built up over years. It was strengthened during the election campaign with a 30-point small business manifesto. Key elements of it were adopted by politicians across the political spectrum. We brought together major players from the main UK-wide parties to answer our members’ questions at our UK small business election debate.
And ten local FSB hustings took place across the UK, with members challenging candidates in key contests.
The work at Westminster is being mirrored in the devolved nations. Our teams in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland worked tirelessly to influence the agenda both during and after the election campaign. Our media and communications team is also key to getting our message out far and wide, ensuring that when FSB speaks, millions hear it.
Away from Brexit, I am adamant that UK politicians cannot be let off the hook on the domestic agenda. Decisive action is needed to get fair treatment for small businesses from their big business customers.
There must be an end to poor payment practices, which kill off thousands of small firms a year, depriving the economy of extra innovation, growth and productivity. The unfair and outdated business rates system must be overhauled. The self-employed must not be used as cash cows with arbitrary tax grabs, and should be given back-up from the Government with fairer rights in areas such as maternity and paternity pay.
FSB was established more than 40 years ago to stand up for the interests of small businesses and the self-employed, and make sure the politicians back them. In this current time of great change, it is crucial for us to keep making our voice heard.