Certainly a year of challenges and changes for business owners and managers across Lincolnshire. But those in business for themselves are a resilient group and know that it was never going to be an easy ride.
The most frequent queries and concerns coming in to me through 2017 have not changed much from previous years and include business rates, broadband, business crime and business support.
It was promising that the Autumn Budget had a ‘business friendly’ feel to it and evidenced that the Chancellor had read and understood the pre-Budget asks of lobbying and campaigning organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). A welcome u-turn on the so called Staircase Tax treatment of multi-site commercial premises will avoid unwelcome business rate hikes for many businesses and the focus on discretionary relief was also welcome as it is essential that all rating authorities are implementing the scheme.
I look forward to working more closely with our local authorities on business issues such as broadband as many businesses are still finding that poor speeds are hindering business progress. A fully functioning internet connection is now an essential utility for any business. Plus, it is not just a rural issue as some industrial estates continue to have problems.
Business crime and in particular cybercrime, will be a priority through 2018 and plans are already in hand for FSB to work with the Police and Crime Commissioner and his team to deliver some essential events to keep people informed and provide guidance for helping to avoid the pitfalls.
Remove the barriers to growth and the future can be promising and prosperous. National surveys have shown that small business confidence in the East Midlands is still high and has not reduced as it has in some regions. I would also expect that activity through the Midlands Engine should start to have some positive effects for small businesses during next year.
As a business support specialist in previous roles this is something I do keep involved with and provide information and guidance for FSB members where possible. The supply of publicly funded business support programmes is higher now than at any time in the past. How long will that last though? Particularly topical as many of the programmes, grants and schemes are funded by European monies. The business support situation beyond March 2019 is unknown so it may be prudent for businesses with plans to grow and recruit more employees to have a look via their Growth Hub now and see if anything is available to support their project.
Many businesses think that they are too small for such support schemes. Not so, as most of the schemes are for smaller businesses only. Sometimes small business owners consider themselves in the minority – not so. Although a month or so late, the latest BEIS Business Population Estimates have just been published on gov.uk. The estimates show that the number of private sector businesses has gone up to 5.7 million and the percentage of those that are SMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises)? A good Christmas Quiz question! It is still at 99.9% – a majority in anyone’s book.
There is some uncertainty about at the moment. Mostly around the weakened domestic economy and certainly around the UK exit from the EU. My top tip would be to focus on the positives and the things within our control and not be distracted by those issues over which we have concerns but no control. Focus on business as usual in uncertain times.
For me, I will continue to support those in business and ensure that FSB members take up all of the services that suit their needs. Why not keep in the know yourself by following us on @FSBLincs on Twitter? My New Year resolution for 2018 will be to find out what they mean by ‘work life balance’ and then try and do some of it!
With my best wishes for the festive season and a happy and profitable New Year.