The SME verdict on the Queen's Speech

Date: 15 October 2019

Westminster buildingsBusiness groups representing freelancers and small firms have welcomed some of the key proposals in the Queen's Speech - including pension dashboards for the self-employed.

Andy Chamberlain, deputy director of policy at freelancer body IPSE, said: "There were several positives for the self-employed in the Queen's Speech … One of the biggest challenges for the self-employed, is saving for later life. In fact, our research shows that 67% of the self-employed are worried about their pensions.

"For a long time, we at IPSE have supported the idea of a pensions dashboard to help the self-employed bring their savings together in one place and get a handle on their provision for later life. The government's confirmation of this is therefore a definite step in the right direction for the self-employed."

IPSE also welcomed the government's support for Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) pensions. "If groups of the self-employed band together, they could use these to significantly boost their pension provision," said Chamberlain. "We therefore believe any government bill on CDCs should open them up to the self-employed."

The commitment to accelerate the provision of faster broadband was also widely welcomed. Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "The ramping-up of broadband investment is vital - more small firms need access to full-fibre - as is a significant strengthening of our mobile connectivity."

However, continued uncertainty - especially on trade and immigration - remains a critical business issue. The Queen's Speech, Cherry warned, "serves as a stark reminder of the many domestic challenges that have been neglected over the past three years as Brexit has absorbed government bandwidth … Concrete action is needed at the upcoming budget to help small firms handle spiralling costs linked to business rates and employment."

According to the FSB, one in five small employers rely on staff from the EU, with many European employees falling outside the traditional definition of "high-skilled".

"The government should be leaving EU citizens in no doubt about their right to remain after Brexit," said Cherry. "Uncertainty has been rife in this area, with small firms left in the dark as to how our immigration system will work post-Brexit. The publishing of today's Immigration Bill provides more of a steer as to what the future could hold, and it's vital that the formation of a new system from 2021 is evidence-led, with small businesses thoroughly consulted on fresh measures."

The FSB is calling for a "radical" business-focused budget on 6 November to tackle rising business costs. Cherry said: "Small businesses want to see wider business rates reform and a significant uprating of the small business discount on national insurance bills available through the Employment Allowance."

In its response to the Queen's Speech, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also raised the issue of business costs. Dr Adam Marshall, BCC director general, said: "Businesses can't afford for government to lose sight of its responsibility to create conditions that support growth and boost investment - much of which doesn't require new primary legislation. That means action to lower the upfront costs hitting firms, boosting investment in infrastructure and skills, and providing considerable investment incentives to companies."

On a positive note, both the FSB and the BCC welcomed the new Environment Bill. Marshall said: "The government's ambition to position the UK as a global leader on the issue of climate change is laudable," said Dr Adam Marshall. "For many firms the path to achieving this could bring growth across a range of sectors, technologies and markets." 

The FSB's Mike Cherry said: "Setting realistic long-term targets in this space is critical. Small firms need support and the right incentives to take this agenda forward. There are easy wins to be had, not least the removal of business rates on solar panels."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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