FSB Weekly Brief Newsletter – Friday 5 April 2024

News 5 Apr 2024

All the week's most important small business news.

Royal Mail cuts to second class post would be ‘too drastic’

Royal Mail outlined proposals to cut second-class letter deliveries to every other day this week, following an Ofcom consultation into the future of the service published earlier this year. FSB Policy Chair Tina McKenzie told The Times, BBC News, i News, the Financial Times, and others that the decision was “too drastic”, saying the small business community relies on a regular postal serviceHowever, Royal Mail did pledge to retain a six-day-a-week service for first class letters after saying in January that the service was under threat. The latest plans include proposals to post bulk business mail within three working days instead of the current two. FSB Chief of External Affairs Craig Beaumont also reacted to the news on BBC Radio 5 Live. FSB is now awaiting Ofcom’s final decision.

Banking hubs rollout is too slow, says FSB

Speaking to Sky News this week, FSB National Chair Martin McTague explained how the number of banks on the high street has gone down by 40 per cent. He explained how this issue particularly impacts rural communities due to slower broadband speeds - making online banking services harder to access. He said: “The time and money it costs SMEs to deposit cash is the biggest issue.” He explained that the best way to solve this is to introduce banking hubs - spaces that are shared by different high street banks, however, their roll-out so far has been slow.

Stop late payments to encourage investment

FSB National Chair Martin McTague told Talk TV presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer that the Labour Party’s figures showing there are 40,000 fewer businesses this year “does not come as a huge surprise.” He highlighted how FSB’s Small Business Index (SBI) data shows that business confidence is low, at -15.0 points, attributing this, in part, to a late payment crisis. He told the Government to “stop wringing their hands and worrying about where this issue originates,” and take real action to help ensure that small firms are paid on time.

New import costs announced with only a month left until changes kick in

The Government announced that businesses that import animal and plant products from the EU will have to pay common user charges on all imports to Great Britain from 30 April. This will affect a range of small firms, including garden centres and tapas restaurants. FSB National Chair Martin McTague told The Guardian: “Although we knew these changes were coming in at some point, formally announcing an onslaught of more fees with less than a month’s notice will undoubtedly cause a great deal of stress.” The news came with fewer than four weeks left before physical border checks and changes to import controls are due to come into effect under the Broader Target Operating Model

FCA must take stronger approach on personal guarantees

FSB has written a letter to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), calling for the financial watchdog to rethink its response to FSB’s super-complaint on personal guarantees, as reported by Sky News. FSB believes the FCA’s response to date is not thorough or robust enough to resolve the issues raised in the super-complaint. FSB National Chair Martin McTague said in the letter: “The FCA's decision to limit the scope of evidence-gathering fundamentally, and I'm afraid deliberately, excludes the more than one million limited company directors in the UK that run their small businesses by being incorporated" which risks "losing the confidence of small businesses".

More protection for small business energy customers

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) and Ofgem have jointly announced a package of reforms to help protect small business energy customers, which begin throughout 2024. Small businesses with 10-49 employees will now be able to take energy disputes to the Energy Ombudsman (previously, only microbusinesses with under 10 employees could do so), while new rules will give more protection from rogue energy brokers who are not acting in customers’ best interests. FSB campaigned for these additional forms of protection for small firms, with FSB National Chair Martin McTague welcoming the reforms, saying: “Honest and reputable energy brokers play an important role, and small firms deserve better protection from rogue operators, which these new rules should help provide.

Championing SMEs: FSB meets with Shadow Chancellor and Shadow Business Secretary

FSB attended a roundtable meeting with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves MP and Shadow Business and Trade Secretary Jonathan Reynolds MP in Nottinghamshire to discuss the Labour Party's plan to support small businesses. The roundtable, chaired by FSB’s retail policy champion, Michael Weedon, was attended by a range of small business owners from the area. They discussed the importance of ensuring that the UK's 5.5 million SMEs thrive.

National Insurance cuts come into effect

Following successful campaigning by FSB, resulting in announcements in both the Autumn Statement and Spring Budget, cuts to National Insurance Contributions (NICs) come into effect from 6 April. This follows on from several tax changes introduced on 1 April, including an increase to the VAT threshold to £90,000 which FSB campaigned for in the recent Spring Budget. NICs for the self-employed (Class IV) will be cut to six per cent, down from nine per cent, with employees (Class I) NICs cut by a further two per cent to eight per cent - this is on top of the two per cent cut announced by the Chancellor in October 2023. Compulsory Class II NICs will also be abolished from 6 April. Employers should check with their payroll system provider that appropriate changes to Class I NICs have been made. Most electronic payroll systems should be updated automatically by providers.

Shape the future of business policy: FSB’s latest Small Business Index survey is live

The FSB Small Business Index (SBI) survey for the first quarter of 2024 is open. FSB’s quarterly SBI serves as a temperature check for small businesses across the UK, and the results form the basis for policy recommendations across many important areas for small firms, helping to make the case for change to Government and other important decision-makers. The survey only takes a few minutes to complete and is open to all small business owners.

Improvement Relief for business rates

Businesses that make certain improvements to their property might be eligible for Improvement Relief on their business rate bill. Improvements must increase the building’s rateable value, have been completed after 1 April 2024, increase the property size, or add new features, such as heating, air conditioning, or CCTV. For guidance on how to qualify, see the Valuation Office Agency’s Ratings Manual and the Government’s website.

Exporting to the Indo-Pacific: Government trade roadshows

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) is hosting a series of free roadshows from 17 June to 1 July to help SMEs take advantage of the growing opportunities to sell goods and services to the Indo-Pacific region. The roadshows take place across the UK and will cover business opportunities, how to get bespoke advice from regional experts, and more. They will host several speakers from existing exporters to the region, talking about how they achieved their export success. Find out more and register by contacting: [email protected]

FSB leads campaign against evening parking charges plan in Glasgow

Glasgow City Council’s plans to impose city centre parking charges until 10 pm have been put on hold following successful campaigning from FSB. FSB research shows that eight in ten fear they would dampen footfall and hit businesses’ turnover, while more than 50 per cent fear they would have to reduce staff hours or numbers, and two in five said they would have to close their business altogether. These findings were the basis for a high-profile media campaign and joint representations to the Leader of the City Council.

FSB Award winners in Northern Ireland

Twelve small businesses from Northern Ireland received their FSB Awards at a celebration event in the Dark Horse in Belfast this week. The winners included an environmental street furniture company that takes inspiration from the Wombles; an award-winning actress, voiceover artist, and event host who founded a successful public speaking company, and one of the fastest-growing and progressive logistics companies serving clients in the UK and beyond. They will now proceed to the UK-wide FSB awards finals, which take place in Blackpool in May.

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