By Jonathan Isaby
Monday this week saw the maiden speech from Julian Smith, the new Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon. He delivered it during the proceedings on the Government's second Finance bill of the session, containing a variety of technical measures that could not be included in the first Finance Bill before the summer.
As is usual, he paid tribute to his predecessor, David Curry, and went on to suggest that his constituents in the vast Yorkshire Dales constituency are a living, breathing epitome of the "Big Society":
"My constituency is also remarkable for the character of those who live in it. They are independent, driven, hard-working and proud of their Yorkshire roots. The big society has been operating here for years. Doctor's surgeries, councils and charities are all working extra hard to deal with the challenges of operating in the most rural county in England. Apart from the Skipton building society and Wolseley, agriculture and small businesses provide the vast majority of employment."
And the thrust of his speech then concentrated on the problems encountered by people wanting to set up those small businesses:
"Skipton and Ripon is not like the south-east, Leeds or Manchester – many people have no choice but to make it on their own. Under the previous Government, the small business owner – the individual – as I was when, aged 27, I set up a business from the front room of my flat, has been given much more than his core business to worry about.
"Let us hear from two budding, if older, entrepreneurs, who are into property-let us call them Basil and Sybil, as they want to set up a new hotel in the heart of the dales. They reach Companies House in London, where it is recommended that they set up the company online. They go online, but the forms cannot be downloaded as only dial-up speeds are available in Littondale. They want a waiter, a new Manuel, so they start some interviews, but because of the new equalities legislation they worry about asking candidates how they would cope with the very steep and rickety steps around the property. They read a business book to get up to speed on the new rules, but Basil's eyes glaze over as he learns how to calculate employers' national insurance, employees' NI, pay-as-you-earn, student loan repayments, and maternity and pension payments. And when they need an injection of cash they call the bank, but are told that despite their excellent business plan, the bank is not lending to the hotel sector.
"We have to do better. We are desperate for private sector jobs. Contrary to what the shadow Minister said, the coalition has made a great start on addressing this issue by lowering corporation tax, scrapping the jobs tax and waiving national insurance for new small businesses setting up in Yorkshire. Initiatives such as the venture capital provisions in this Bill are also important steps, but there is more to do to create better conditions for small business – there is more to do beyond finance and, in particular, in the area of employment law.
"There has been an explosion of employment law in the past 10 years, from the previous Government and from Brussels. As a small business owner trying to do the right thing, employment law took hundreds of hours of my time. People should try disciplining an employee with the three-step written process when they share the same tiny room with them – it feels ridiculous. Imagine, having started your business, you hire a graduate and four days in she asks for the free eye tests that she understands are her legal right because she uses a computer. Outrageous EU discrimination laws with limitless liability mean that even the most innocent mistake can leave a business owner broke. Additional paternity leave plans by Labour will be introduced next year and the coalition has plans for further reform, so business will get organised for one change and then have to change again in the near future. In addition, has anyone really worked out the impact on very small businesses of both men and women now being able to take up to six months off after having a baby?
"Other legislation coming down the track in the next year includes the agency workers directive, the pregnancy workers directive, the removal of the default retirement age and a new right to request flexible working and training. Who is representing the challenges faced by the hard-pressed owner-manager as this legislation is developed? For BP or HSBC all of this kind of legislation is manageable, because they can pay for human resources professionals and they can afford their lawyers. People who run small businesses, such as those in Skipton and Ripon or the one that I ran, are their own HR department and they have to manage these things themselves.
"We have to do something now to stop new employment legislation for the next two years – these are two years when we need small business to feel as free as possible to take on staff. In the longer term, we need to consider more exemptions for small business, acknowledging that it cannot cope with the same burdens as bigger firms."
This was the penultimate of the maiden speeches from the 2010 Conservative intake: we await the last, which will be delivered by Jonathan Lord, who was elected MP for Woking in May.