The Scottish Mail on Sunday

‘Enough pol­i­tics! It’s time to get down to busi­ness’

Small firms say Govern­ment must lis­ten now

- by Vicki Owen SMALL BUSI­NESS EDI­TOR

SMALL busi­nesses ex­pect prac­ti­cal help and a change of tone and ap­proach from the Govern­ment, which has too of­ten viewed them as a prob­lem, in the wake of the Elec­tion re­sult.

Dr Adam Mar­shall, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Bri­tish Cham­bers of Com­merce, told The Mail on Sun­day: ‘Up un­til the Elec­tion, a lot of small busi­nesses were do­ing a good job of ig­nor­ing the noise of pol­i­tics, but I think this be­comes a lot harder as the un­cer­tainty is reach­ing all cor­ners. They want to see a work­able Govern­ment formed and they want it to be fo­cused very strongly on the prac­ti­cal is­sues around do­ing busi­ness and the econ­omy.

‘The run-up to the Elec­tion was ex­tremely frus­trat­ing for small firms be­cause those eco­nomic prac­ti­cal­i­ties were ba­si­cally ab­sent through­out the cam­paigns from all sides. That has to end to­day.’

He urged: ‘They’ve got to be for busi­ness and the econ­omy. Equally, the tone has to change over busi­ness, which is not a prob­lem to be solved, but is part of the so­lu­tion, and work­ing to­gether be­tween busi­ness and Govern­ment is go­ing to be re­ally im­por­tant in the com­ing weeks and months.’ Emma Jones, founder of small busi­ness sup­port group En­ter­prise Na­tion, said: ‘If this as­ton­ish­ing Elec­tion re­sult is the cat­a­lyst to make the in­cum­bent Govern­ment fi­nally sit up and lis­ten to what small firms want, then some­thing good at least will have come from it. Our own de­bate in front of a small-busi­ness au­di­ence weeks ahead of the Elec­tion and within strik­ing dis­tance of West­min­ster should have fired a warn­ing shot to pol­icy makers that some­thing was not go­ing to plan. ‘A vote put the Tories in sec­ond place – un­prece­dented for the so-called party of busi­ness. It hap­pened on the day the Con­ser­va­tives un­veiled their man­i­festo, with all its re­forms that would hit small busi­nesses in the pocket and im­pact pro­duc­tiv­ity. The fact that this was ig­nored shows that small busi­nesses were not be­ing taken into ac­count. If they had been, we may not be in this sit­u­a­tion.’ The Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­nesses has called for a de­layed start to Brexit talks and a clear timetable for the com­ing weeks in the wake of the Elec­tion re­sult. FSB chair­man Mike Cherry has said talks should be led ‘by a Govern­ment and a Prime Min­is­ter that will be in place for the du­ra­tion, and so we call for a de­lay to the sched­uled start of ne­go­ti­a­tions’. Clive Lewis, head of en­ter­prise at the In­sti­tute of Char­tered Ac­coun­tants in Eng­land & Wales, said: ‘Busi­ness ab­hors un­cer­tainty and what we’ve got is even more un­cer­tainty, so it’s very dif­fi­cult for busi­ness. And I’ve got to say, busi­ness didn’t re­ally seem to fea­ture much in any of the par­ties’ man­i­festos and I think that’s a pri­or­ity for which­ever Govern­ment is formed, get­ting a fo­cus on busi­ness.’

Be­cause of pur­dah – the pre-Elec­tion pe­riod where civil ser­vants’ work is re­stricted – fol­lowed by the UK wak­ing up to a hung Par­lia­ment on Fri­day, a num­ber of de­ci­sions have con­tin­ued to be put on hold.

Mar­shall said: ‘Those have real prac­ti­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions. So whether it’s the launch of re­gional in­vest­ment funds, which have been de­layed, de­layed, and then de­layed again, City deals or other de­vo­lu­tion things that are very im­por­tant to busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties in many parts of the coun­try, there is a knock-on ef­fect that can hit busi­ness con­fi­dence.’

He ad­vised: ‘Busi­nesses need to keep fo­cus­ing on the fun­da­men­tals: re­la­tion­ships with sup­pli­ers and cus­tomers, cash flow and the or­der book. That’s got to come first.’

Lewis said: ‘In times of un­cer­tainty and when fac­ing in­fla­tion, there are two things you have to fo­cus on: sales and gross mar­gin.

‘One of the prob­lems of be­ing a small firm is you can’t turn down busi­ness, so you can tend to get a big per­cent­age of sales with just a few cus­tomers. So if they then get into trou­ble, that has re­ally ad­verse af­fects on your busi­ness.

‘If you’ve got a sig­nif­i­cant cus­tomer, you must keep your eye on their credit rat­ing and make sure their pay­ments to you do not slip fur­ther than they have al­ready.’

 ??  ?? WARN­ING: Adam Mar­shall said de­layed de­ci­sions can hit con­fi­dence
WARN­ING: Adam Mar­shall said de­layed de­ci­sions can hit con­fi­dence
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