Today’s Queen’s Speech shows how much the coalition is banking on SMEs for a victory in the upcoming elections, with the first ever bill for small businesses
Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament – House of Lords 2013/Roger Harris
When hacks from across the land descend on Westminster, it can only mean one of two things: either a high-profile resignation or the Queen’s Speech. And, given only the cockiest MP would flee the jeering crowds in a golden, three-tonne coach, the latter seems a touch more likely.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, where our monarch lays out the direction for what is the final year of the coalition’s time in power. All told, Her Maj introduced plenty of noteworthy policies, including the Modern Slavery Bill and a severely defanged piece of legislation that will allow constituents to oust MPs who have committed wrongdoing. But the most startup-relevant measures come in the form of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, containing a raft of initiatives designed to boost the profitability and growth of both small businesses and our economy as a whole.
Included in the bill are measures to:
- make it easier for small businesses to access finance
- improve payment practices between small businesses and their customers
- provide small firms with fair access to the £230bn spent each year in the form of public procurement contracts
- frequently review red tape
- strengthen the reputation of the UK as a trusted and fair place to do business
- tackle National Minimum Wage abuses and crack down on abuse in zero hours contracts
- make it easier for small businesses to expand overseas
- bring fairness to the sole traders and small businesses that running tied pubs
- make childcare regulations more flexible to meet the needs of working families
- stop highly paid public sector employees keeping redundancy payments when they come back to the same part of the public sector within a short period of time
The announcement of the bill has drawn both effusive optimism and cautious scrutiny from key figures in the enterprise space.
James Benamor, CEO of Amigo Loans, the guarantor loans company, commented:
“At least we are seeing some positive steps from the Government who finally look like they are ready to take real action to help small businesses. The quicker this legislation comes through the better as many ‘rejected’ SMEs just don’t know where to turn at the moment, especially as the latest funding for lending figures show yet another drop in business lending from the banks.”
Simon McVicker, director of Policy and Public Affairs at PCG, the membership association for freelancers and independent professionals, said:
“The UK’s flexible labour market keeps the number of people out of work down and also provides a gradual route into self-employment for many of those looking to start their own business. A ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts would be a sensible approach to combating some of the issues around this way of working as it focuses on poor practice – not a wholesale condemnation of flexible work in general.”
Meanwhile, Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, the small business network, remarked:
"An ombudsman-type figure checking out new regulation with small businesses in mind is a great idea to ensure the way these firms operate in an emerging small business economy is taken into consideration. We think starting a small business in today's Britain is the new normal and hope to see much more of this."
Given that the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ own research has shown SMEs make up 99.9 per cent of all private sector businesses in the UK, it’s hardly surprising the government is so eager to cater to the concerns of small business and with an election looming ever larger on the horizon, it’s clear the coalition is trying to up its game. But it will need to make some significant strides over the next twelve months to ensure they win over those in the engine room of the UK economy.