Putting small businesses at the heart of policy is the only way to build a society, and build back from a crisis.
Make no mistake, small businesses are facing a crisis this winter. Even before the majority of the big hits come – the official announcement of recession, the bigger energy bills, the increases to mortgage payments – businesses are facing high input costs, high finance costs, impossible barriers to export and already spiralling energy bills.
There is a limit to what this critical part of the economy can take and we cannot layer on more tax, by stealth or otherwise, to an already overburdened sector. When we talk about protecting the vulnerable, we should make sure we include the tiny micro businesses that make up 99% of the UK’s firms, as it is those we will need to get through this and out the other side.
However, as we look at the Autumn budget, there is clearly a limit to what financial levers can be pulled to help out small businesses. Businesses that are facing existential crises – and we at Small Business Britain are seeing more business failures now than we did at the peak of the pandemic – are looking for solutions, looking for support, and are unlikely to find those in government cash.
That does not mean there is nothing government can do. It remains as true now as it always has that having entrepreneurship at the heart of government policy is the silver bullet to solving the major challenges in the world. This is not just about business, but about society too.
Small businesses drive innovation that can and will solve the unsolvable energy crisis; small businesses are trying, failing fast, and trying again to solve the sustainability crisis. Small businesses remain at the heart of communities supporting the elderly, disabled, children, employment, mental health, education, infrastructure and in fact all the things that really matter to society.
Putting entrepreneurship first is not a financial decision; it is a fundamental core principle that guides a vibrant successful community and society. Enabling businesses to start up without big upfront costs, prohibitive red tape and hidden barriers (such as making it inaccessible to disabled founders, or impossible for the economically deprived, or overwhelming for those without a higher education) can stimulate a boom in creativity and opportunity that we desperately need right now – and it does not have to cost major tax pounds to do it.
Similarly, fixing the barriers to export – which is dramatically holding back growth opportunities for the small businesses that have pulled back from EU exports since Brexit – can unlock huge potential. It can give businesses the opportunity to find customers when perhaps the spectre or reality of a recession at home slows down spend. Looking at export through the lens of entrepreneurship and innovation significantly changes how you see the world, and can make a huge difference to the policy, and the business experience, in place.
Finally, the language that we use will make a critical difference to how the next few years pans out for small businesses. Putting entrepreneurship and innovation at the heart of our approach to recovery means talking about opportunity, solutions, creativity and an openness to change and progress. I
f all we talk about is recession, belts tightening, sacrifices made, businesses are not going to buck the trend for declining optimism and confidence; there will just be more decline and a self-fulfilling downward spiral.
Let’s focus on talking about possibility. Let’s make government policy reflect that possibility. Let’s make sure that the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship and innovation drive that possibility. And let’s make sure it is open and accessible to all.