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14 November 2017

Small businesses call for Government support to help clear the air

The Government must ensure that any future air quality proposals are implemented fairly or they risk disproportionately hitting small firms, according to a new report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Policies, such as the introduction of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in England, have the potential to hit up to 1.5 million small businesses and the self-employed by creating restrictions and additional costs for those that operate within their boundaries.

FSB’s latest report, Clearing the Air: Supporting small businesses in tackling air quality in England’, highlights the need for greater engagement with the small business community to better understand the challenges of meeting air quality measures, including the cost burden, and how these can be eased.

The report calls for greater support for smaller firms to mitigate the impact of CAZs including extending a diesel scrappage scheme to cover all small businesses based in, or frequently operating within, the forthcoming CAZs. Furthermore, all cash surpluses raised from charging CAZs should be ring-fenced for local road improvement and air quality initiatives.

Government strategies – including the Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy – must enable and empower the UK’s 5 million small businesses to be part of the solution as we move towards a cleaner and increasingly low-carbon future. Alongside this, there is a clear need for a long term policy framework to avoid small businesses being hit by poor air quality policies in the future.

Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: “For countless small businesses, the vehicle they use and rely on plays a vital role in their business activities - whether it’s transporting people or good and services.

“Smaller firms recognise the role they can play in reducing air pollution and many are already doing their bit. To enable more businesses to do so, however, the path to reaching air quality targets must be affordable, achievable and fair. Firms are already struggling with the soaring costs of running a business today, and it is simply not fair to them, or to the benefit of the wider economy to, suddenly burden them with substantial additional costs associated with improving air quality.

“Local authority plans to tackle air pollution must recognise the difference between vital and non-vital journeys, while providing clarity on what alternative forms of transport are available. We certainly don’t want vital small businesses discouraged from operating in our city centres.

“The diversity of the small business community, and the challenges they face in tackling local air pollution, means that there is not a ‘silver-bullet’ solution. Any measures aimed at improving air quality must acknowledge these differences and provide a range of support that empowers all small businesses to play their part.”

The report also calls for major investment in bringing the nation’s energy infrastructure into the 21st century. This will make it cheaper and easier for smaller firms to transition to cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

As part of this, Government should incentivise distribution network operators (DNOs) to invest in energy infrastructure and capacity upgrades across the forthcoming CAZs. This would include the urgent roll-out of charging stations which would support the transition to electric vehicles in these areas. 

Mike Cherry continued: “Government must drive the transition to cleaner vehicles through investing in, and incentivising, the modernisation of the UK’s old and inefficient energy infrastructure.

“Without this investment, the costs and ease of switching to greener transportation will remain out of reach for many small businesses.  Some of these businesses already feel like they have lost out on their investment in diesel after being given guidance by multiple Governments, it is not fair that they get hit again with the costs of moving to zero emissions vehicles.”