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01 February 2019

Weekly Brief 5 - Friday 1 February 2019

A wrap of the week’s small business news from FSB’s Westminster Press, Policy and Public Affairs Office. To sign-up for Weekly Brief emails, please use this link.

LATEST ADVICE & OPPORTUNITIES 

Business Basics second round applications

The Business Basics fund has reopened for a second round. The winners of the first round were announced this week. The fund is designed to test innovative ways of encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to adopt existing technologies and management practices to improve their productivity. Find out more here.

Countdown to Brexit

As the stalemate in Westminster continues, the clock keeps ticking towards 29 March when the UK is set to leave the European Union. Check out our FSB Brexit Hub for information and advice on what -no deal' might mean, as well as details about potential trade arrangements post-Brexit. 

Food and Drink Sector Council Survey

The Food and Drink Sector Council is conducting a workforce and skills survey of its industry. The survey can be accessed via this link and includes questions on workforce composition, temporary agency workers, training, apprenticeships, skills and vacancies.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Feedback Sessions

DCMS is organising stakeholder feedback sessions regarding the National Cyber Security Skills Strategy. If you are interested in attending one of these meetings in your area, please register using the following links: London (Wednesday 13 February) Birmingham (Thursday 14 February), Belfast (Tuesday 19 February), Glasgow (Wednesday 20 February), Cardiff (Wednesday 27) February, Manchester (Thursday 28 February).

THE SMALL BIZ WEEK IN REVIEW

Monday

MPs voted against a no-deal Brexit in the House of Commons, but FSB pointed out that small businesses needed more certainty. FSB has been calling for more cross-party talks which have also been continuing.

Tuesday

New analysis from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) for the FSB was published at the start of this week, showing that the cost of Government policy to the average small firm has surged by £60,000 in six years. The findings were covered by the Times, FT and Telegraph. 

Elsewhere, the latest insolvency statistics indicate that the number of firms going bust has reached a four-year high. Among them are almost 1,000 self-employed individuals who have suffered from bankruptcy in Q3 2018. FSB's take on the reasons for the disappointing statistics was featured in the Guardian.

On Tuesday evening, all eyes were on Westminster as MPs voted on a series of amendments to the Bill concerning the UK's exit from the European Union. The uncertainty in the House of Commons means uncertainty for SMEs, as Director of External Affairs & Advocacy Craig Beaumont told TalkRadio.

The Brady amendment - calling on negotiators to explore new avenues in relation to the Irish backstop - was passed, a development welcomed by Mike Cherry. He stressed once again that the Brexit deadlock must be resolved before Brexit day on 29 March.

Wednesday

Mike Cherry talked Brexit in a live interview with CNBC in a debate focussed on the future of the proposed backstop arrangement and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. FSB Northern Ireland Policy Chair Tina McKenzie was interviewed on BBC News about the future of the backstop. Watch her interview here.

Meanwhile, the latest FSB -SmallBizTalks' podcast was released. The new episode looks ahead to FSB's annual Celebrating Small Business Awards which take place in May.

Thursday

The deadline for online self-assessment tax returns arrived on Thursday, with many people trying to contact HMRC for support. FSB flagged that the relationship between sole traders and HMRC has been nothing short of calamitous in recent times, after a year of inaccurate reminders and penalty notices, phishing emails, poor customer service and an unreliable tool for assessing employment status.

Friday

Today the Treasury Select Committee has announced that it is launching an inquiry into the impact of business rates on firms. FSB welcomed the inquiry, adding that business rates - despite the recent reforms that FSB has secured for small firms - remain a regressive tax not linked to ability to pay. The FT covered the story.

FROM THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

EU withdrawal 

In the debate in the Commons to determine next steps for the UK's withdrawal from the EU, the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn said that FSB were calling on MPs to oppose a no-deal Brexit. 

Brexit preparedness

In a debate in the Lords, Baroness Wheatcroft (Conservative) quoted FSB research that only one in seven small businesses has made any preparation for a no-deal Brexit. She argued that Britain is not ready to crash out of the EU on 29 March. 

Support for entrepreneurs 

Responding to a question about encouraging entrepreneurship, Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick referenced FSB's support for measures in the Budget 2018, including business rates reductions and entrepreneurs' relief.

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