Unleash small businesses to get growth going - The Telegraph

Unleash small businesses to get growth going – The Telegraph

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‘Going for growth” is not just a political sound bite but a vital Conservative economic strategy, and that fundamental ethos cannot get lost in the melee of everyday politics. In recent months, tough decisions have been made to steady our economic course and reassure the markets, but it is imperative that Conservatives do not forget who we are and what we stand for in the process.

We are proud to be the party of entrepreneurship and free markets, but we must also be the party that explains why those things are so important for everyday lives. Economic growth means more jobs and money for families, increased tax revenues to pay for improved public services and greater financial security for us all. Too often, however, when discussing growth, the spotlight is on macro-economic issues. This bird’s eye view neglects the importance of small local businesses in relation to the overall picture. We must focus on how growing small and medium-sized businesses can benefit both our local and national economies and ask what more we can do to support start-ups and expand existing firms. They are our future.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of local communities, but that is not always acknowledged. From corner shops and pubs to family-run engineering firms and larger multi-site businesses with bases across the UK and beyond, they may vary in size and sectors but all have one thing in common: the opportunity to grow. And in doing so create jobs, boost local economies and our national finances.

Quite rightly, we are proud to be one of the best countries in the world to start a business. I know this because I did it myself. Before entering Parliament, I was fortunate enough to run a small family company. It’s hard work but also rewarding because it relies on close working relationships with colleagues and customers. You need that ethos to be successful. That’s why so many small business owners are as proud of what they do as the teams they employ are.

Too often, however, we see small businesses and their owners portrayed by Left-wing activists as a necessary evil. Instead, Conservatives should celebrate them and champion their central place in driving forward growth. We should encourage those with ideas to take the leap and set-up shop and back those who want to grow. That way the small businesses of today may become the big businesses of tomorrow.

As a party we have consistently created a pro-business environment, allowing entrepreneurs to flourish. We cannot step back from that now. In the post-Brexit world, only a Conservative government can create space for businesses to adapt and innovate within a simple and logical regulatory framework. And like many, I am impatient to see the removal of burdensome bureaucracy.

Small business owners are worried about VAT. Despite rising costs, the threshold for VAT has not risen to reflect this. Much like the personal tax thresholds, more and more small firms are thus being dragged into the VAT regime. This not only adds direct costs, but also an administrative cost. Many firms work on very small margins so even a small rise in costs makes it harder for them to survive. And that’s before the higher energy bills they are facing. For small businesses to continue to succeed across the UK, we must ensure all the right incentives are in place to promote growth and success.

As Northern Ireland secretary, I saw innovative companies, working alongside university research departments, creating ground-breaking opportunities in artificial intelligence, engineering, medical technology, and quantum computing. Within my own Great Yarmouth constituency, there are many firms run by local people that are also global players, leading the way in the oil, gas, and renewable energy sectors. Some of the biggest names in house-building and construction, from JCB to Berkeley Homes, started as sole traders or small businesses. They are now international success stories employing thousands of people.

They will achieve even more if a Conservative government goes further to free them from the shackles of unnecessary regulation, and rewards investment by supporting those who are taking risks investing in and developing small businesses. That would be a positive use of our tax system, to drive growth and jobs. We have a limited time between now and the Budget, as our economy steadies, to look at what more we can do.

Economic growth is not just a lofty ambition for academic debate. It must be a reality, driven by the day-to-day decisions taken by Government to support small businesses. We must create better conditions to allow entrepreneurs to flourish and to continue being the bedrock of a better, brighter and more sustainable economic future for us all. This is more important now than ever. 

Brandon Lewis is a former Northern Ireland secretary

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