So, Parliament is once again officially open for business and the latest Queen’s Speech has outlined the priorities of the government for the coming session. But what are the plans for small businesses? Some are heralding the speech as containing important reforms which will get small business confidence back on track; whereas others feel that there was little of significant value for micro-businesses in the legislative plans announced.
Mike Cherry, Chairman of FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) said that “There are a number of Bills announced today which could have a big impact on small businesses and their ability to grow.” The latest FSB Small Business Index has revealed small business confidence to be at its lowest level since 2013 and, according to the FSB, small businesses want to see moves to boost enterprise and cut the cost of doing business in all corners of the country.
Mike Cherry also welcomes what he sees as a key theme of The Queens Speech: improving the workings of dysfunctional markets and investing in key infrastructure. He cited two of the planned bills as having particular significance for small businesses: “FSB will closely monitor the Better Markets Bill as an opportunity to boost competitiveness and drive growth, and the Digital Economy Bill which must improve access to broadband for business premises, not just residential properties.”
The main elements of these two bills are as follows:
The Better Markets Bill
- Measures will be introduced to make it easier for customers to switch banks and energy providers
- Competition and Market Authority recommendations for energy competition will be implemented
- Competition investigations will be sped up and regulators given more powers
The Digital Economy Bill
- Every UK household will have legal right to a fast broadband connection
- Broadband will have a guaranteed minimum speed of 10Mbps through Broadband Universal Service Obligation
- Properties in the "remotest areas" may have to contribute to cost of installation
- There will be a new code to cut the cost of building mobile phone masts and broadband cables
- There will be a right to automatic compensation when broadband service goes down
- Companies must get consent before sending promotional spam emails, with fines for transgressors
The Digital Economy Bill was also welcomed by Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General: “Prioritising the digital revolution, which is transforming the face of modern business, is a key step to propelling the UK’s productivity. Ensuring that broadband reaches all corners of the country will breed a new generation of companies in an increasingly competitive environment.”
However, not everything in the garden is rosy. The organisation Chorus - which offers support, advice & campaigns for micro-businesses felt that there was little of significant value for small businesses in the legislative plans announced, despite it being a sector in which 8.4 million now work. They cited the speech as being “deeply disappointing” and suggested the “plans to improve access to broadband will be welcome to some struggling with poor internet connections, it does feel like too little too late for most who have found their way online by hook or by crook.”
It remains to be seen how the Digital Economy Bill rolls out in real time and we await more details with interest. In addition to the broadband element of the bill, small businesses should also be aware of the potential effects of the planned tightening up on email marketing outlined in the bill. The effect on competition of the Better Markets Bill will also be interesting to see.
But whilst all this is ahead of us, meanwhile it’s back to business as usual: carrying on making our small businesses fit for royalty!