Election 2015: Petworth business owner wants government to promote small businesses

Alex Rees at the Downing Street reception with George Osborne. CONTRIBUTED PICTURE ENGSUS00120131012131711
Alex Rees at the Downing Street reception with George Osborne. CONTRIBUTED PICTURE ENGSUS00120131012131711

IN the unique market town of Petworth independent businesses are keeping a close watch on what election candidates are promising them.

They are concerned about their place in the currently broad group of what government calls SMEs – small and medium enterprises.

They are also looking for support from more grass roots local government to help them promote the economy.

Petworth is unique and charming – a town that is loved for its independent businesses and a reputation that has built over many years by hard working and passionate entrepreneurs who love the town.

It’s not just the shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants that are used by locals and visitors alike, there are also many businesses in the trades and services sector in the area in and around Petworth.”

The Petworth Business Association has around 130 members across both the ‘visitor-facing’ and ‘trades/services’ sectors and all but four of these businesses would be classed as independent small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

It’s worth noting the term ‘SME’; is regularly used by politicians from all sides, often when supporting the notion that this group of businesses in the UK are the key to fuelling a long term economic recovery.

But it’s worth pointing out SME is an incredibly broad term, covering businesses with up to 250 employees and up to £250m turnover (which I think we can safely say would cover the average Petworth business).

However looking more closely at the EU business definitions, we see a more useful further breakdown in to Medium, Small and Micro businesses.

Micro businesses are those with up to ten employees and turnover of up to 2m EUR - for the vast majority of PBA members, this is a more appropriate categorisation.

Why is the label important? Because there are issues micro businesses face that larger SME’s may not, and it would be a useful way for a government to support growth by targeting this sector.”

TAX relief, softening of administrative requirements and relaxing employers’ obligations would all help, claimed Mr Rees.

“It’s very different hiring the 200th staff member in an ‘SME’, to the start-up entrepreneur hiring a first employee to grow business - employers’ PAYE contributions and even staff contract requirements could be looked.”

Business rates also needed attention, he said. “rates on commercial premises are currently collected by district councils for central government, yet the raison d’être behind them can be seen as missing or out-dated. In an age of internet retail, out of town retail parks and home delivery grocery shopping, we hear a lot about preserving the high street. So it seems amazing that an arbitrary (and often hefty) tax should exist for businesses in shops in town centres. By contrast there are no business rates on retail web domains, so the modern playing field isn’t level. If taxes exist as levers to shape behaviours then it would make more sense to encourage small and micro businesses to occupy commercial premises, not deter them.”

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