What do SMEs need from the next Prime Minister?

Hunt V Johnson

As the political changing of the guards is fast approaching, our next PM must know what SMBs need from them.

Steven Stewart, Director of SMB Solutions at Valitor explains that we’re currently sat at a point of political uncertainty, with either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt due to be announced as our new Prime Minister next week. Naturally, it’s a time of upheaval, and SMBs (along with their owners) cannot be forgotten. They have various needs that must be met by our new PM – regardless of who is leading the country by the end of the month.

Our new leader needs to acknowledge that SMBs make a huge contribution to the economy – they employ 99.9% of the private sector economy, a total of 16.3m people around the country.Likewise, last year British SMBs collectively had an annual turnover of £2trillion, making up over half of all private sector turnover. These figures are impressive – and the new PM needs to recognise this.

Promote lower business rates

It’s true to say that in times of economic downfall often, SMBs are hit the worst. More than ever before, SMBs, particularly those on the struggling high street, need the financial support that would come from reducing business rates. Andy Street, former Managing Director at John Lewis, believes that the current system is “detrimental” to SMBs.

At the same time, SMBs need to be made aware of the help that is available to them, as navigating this can be complex at times. In the UK, there isn’t one comprehensive system for handling business rates – it varies between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This can simply add to confusion, making it overwhelming for SMB owners; many of whom are short on time and don’t need this added stress.

Making this whole process easier for SMBs would show that the new PM is taking them seriously, and that they acknowledge how running an SMB really isn’t easy.

Clear communication

In the same way that SMBs need clarity about business rates, the new PM must also be clear about changes to legislation, and how the ever-changing political climate will affect them.

While this is a seemingly large task, it is absolutely critical for SMBs to be kept in the loop about changing legislation and just how it will impact them – beforethey are caught out.

The new PM cannot assume that SMBs will have the staff or resources dedicated to noticing changes to employment and trade laws. Likewise, they cannot expect SMBs to have the time to explore the online minefield of legal information in hope of finding the relevant answers.

Avoiding major confusion is so important. It would save SMBs money, time and resources, while also reducing any stress SMB owners and employees may have about confusing legislation. SMBs shouldn’t have to worry about intricate changes to laws, particularly when they are actively trying to do the right thing, abiding by rules they were unaware that changed. At the same time, clear communication from the PM and the wider team of ministers, would be a sign of mutual respect, proving that they don’t want SMBs to be caught out.

Similarly, it is also important that the next PM is clear about the implications of Brexit. Without a doubt, the handling of Brexit is high (if not top) on the agenda for our next PM. Last year, a study by the University of St Andrewsfound that SMBs could be the worst affected by Brexit. Dr Ross Brown, who led the research, said: “There appears to be a deep-seated uncertainty permeating UK small businesses about the ramifications of Brexit.” Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, pointed out that delays to Brexit negotiations have already negatively impacted SMBs. “They are the ones dealing with the realities of this mess – planning decisions cancelled, investment stalled and growth going backwards,” he said.

Regardless of the particular impacts of Brexit, whatever happens will be disruptive to SMBs to some extent. In order to navigate through these next few months, the next PM must maintain clear communication, therefore ensuring this disruption is managed as well as it can be.

Recognise their role in society

While the new PM should respect the pressures SMBs face, they should also value the important role SMBs have in the UK.

The new PM shouldn’t just look at SMBs in an economic sense, but also notice their presence in local communities and in British society on a wider level. Thinking past the numbers, SMBs often shape what communities look like, influence the services available to locals, and provide spaces for people to socialise. Many SMBs have a history that larger business could never replicate; and making it as easy as possible for them to continue their work is ultimately the most crucial thing our next leader must do.