John Walker firstly expressed his thanks to the members in the FSB Branches for all of their very important work since the 2010 National Conference. John Walker also thanked the FSB staff and paid particular tribute to Louise Withers and Stephen Alambritis for the excellent service they gave the FSB during their employment.
Reflecting on the first year of the Coalition Government John said, "The world looked very different last year to how it does today. This time last year we were preparing for the General Election. The Coalition Government has, and continues to tackle the deficit. Last year, the Chancellor promised us they would act on Furnished Holiday Lettings, and an estimated £200 million has been saved for the tourism sector. Regional Government is being swept away to make way for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), and through the Regions and Branches we have been influential on the formation of the LEPs."
John Walker also reflected on the structural changes that had happened to the FSB during his first year as National Chairman, and highlighted that the new staff structure and services for members would strengthen the support available to FSB members. John confirmed that the retention rate of membership was now 85%, which represented an improvement. Whilst recognising that the recruitment of new members is sometimes difficult, particularly during these economic times, John expressed his thanks to the FSB Recruiters and to the Retention Committee for their efforts during the year. John said, "The last year has been difficult but we meet here today much stronger, with a renewed structure that will benefit our members".
Moving on to the state of the small business economy, John Walker highlighted the continuing difficulties for small businesses in accessing finance, and the ever rising operational costs of doing business. "Fuel costs are driving inflation and unemployment. Confidence levels amongst our members continue to plummet and are lower now than at any point in 2010."
John went on to call for more than just a moritorium on regulation and asked Government Ministers to do more to relieve the regulatory pressures on small businesses that were threatening entrepreneurialism. In a stark comment directed at Government Ministers, John Walker said, "Small businesses offer the best solution to economic growth. Much store is placed in the small business sector by Government, but business cannot be done against a tide of regulation. The Government must get the foundations right and make doing business easier." John also argued for the National Insurance holiday to be extended to existing businesses across the UK, indicating that this would be a cheaper measure for the Government to implement rather than keeping unemployed people on benefits.
Turning his attention to the lobbying successes of the FSB over the course of the year, John commented that he was delighted with the re-introduction of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme which had benefitted small businesses in the past. The Graduate Internship Scheme which the FSB helped to launch had placed 6,000 graduates in small businesses, and John recognised that many of the graduates placed would become the entrepreneurs and small business owners of tomorrow.
John Walker's concluding message to Government ahead of the 2011 Budget was clear, "Scrap the fuel duty rise in April and introduce the Fuel Duty Stabiliser. Honour the promise you made to us last year and introduce it next week. We need stability and a more predictable environment. We need a country that is fit for entreprenuers, which gives incentives to people with good ideas".