The Scottish Mail on Sunday
‘Enough politics! It’s time to get down to business’
Small firms say Government must listen now
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.’