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Duncan Baker is Member of Parliament for North Norfolk.

The UK’s six million small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy – a fact long recognised by successive Conservative governments. That’s why I was pleased to see their growth being encouraged in last week’s Spring Statement.

In my role as ‘Small Business Ambassador’ for the East of England, I’ve seen just how crucial small and medium-sized businesses are in sectors like retail, hospitality and leisure. I’ve also been hearing first-hand of both the challenges and the opportunities presenting themselves to smaller business owners.

In recent times, the challenges have loomed larger. Over the past few years we’ve experienced generationally novel events. The pandemic, global inflation, and a war in Ukraine.

But the businesses I speak to, while nervous about the short-to-medium term, are also looking ahead, eager to position themselves in such a way so as to ensure that they are able to take advantage of the new opportunities arising under this Government.

The Statement was right to provide both immediate and long-term support to our smaller companies to help them deal with the high costs they are facing. Rishi Sunak’s decision to cut employers’ national insurance bills by increasing the employment allowance will cause 500,000 SMEs to benefit from a £1,000 tax cut from April. This comes on top of the £1.7 billion investment made by the Chancellor to halve the business rates having to be paid by hundreds of thousands of small businesses.

We’ve also seen the introduction of a £1 million Annual Investment Allowance, which means that many SMEs can invest tax-free. The initiative will inspire perpetual small business growth, as these SMEs’ financial prospectuses become that bit more positive.

But for all the justifiable attention on the pressures which small firms face in the short term, we cannot lose sight of the actions we need to now take to drive economic growth and create a more competitive business environment.

Even during the pandemic, the Government was able to introduce measures like the Help to Grow scheme which, through its two strands, sets out to deal with two longstanding challenges SMEs have faced: access to the management and mentorship advice they need to scale-up, and the acquisition of investment in new digital software. Ministers have also now listened to longstanding calls to consult on the introduction of an Online Sales Tax, which will work to level the playing field between high street traders and online businesses.

It’s important that we now push to ensure that the advantages of such a tax are made clear to the Government, such that the revenue from it is used to fund reductions in business rates for SME retailers with properties in England.

The Spring Statement and Tax Plan both contained welcome detail on the mechanisms the government intends to invoke to engender private sector investment, employer-led (and skills-based) training, and domestic innovation. Sunak confirmed that the Government will be cutting and reforming business taxes to drive-up growth and productivity, creating a new culture of enterprise in which small businesses can thrive.

To ensure that this happens, we must listen to the many entrepreneurs calling for policies like the Annual Investment Allowance to be expanded, to incentivise further investment. It’s important for a global Britain to cement its place as a leader amongst those within the OECD when it comes to the ease with which capital can be deployed in this context.

Businesses needed to see the Chancellor’s priorities from his Mais Lecture – capital, people, and ideas – properly fleshed-out. They must now seize upon the opportunity to engage with the Government on the most effective ways to reform tax credits to support innovation, as well as help us to discern just where the incentives need to be placed to encourage employer-led staff training, particularly in technical and digital skills, building upon the bold aims set-out in both the Autumn budget and the Levelling-Up white paper.

It would also be remiss of me to not mention the importance of SMEs’ role in our green agenda. As someone for whom sustainability matters – North Norfolk being an area in need of protection – and who has worked to support the Government of its putting in place of a fantastic, environmentally-concerned, framework for SMEs, I think it vital that we begin to better communicate the initiatives that are out there to help them and the planet.

A recent report by Aviva showed that only 13 per cent of construction firms has heard of the Heat and Buildings Strategy. This needs to change.

Equally, we must listen to that which has already been said. With a jobs market brimming with brilliant opportunities and small businesses crying-out for suitable staff-members, it’s essential that we make the apprenticeship levy as flexible as it possibly can be for employers, so that it can be used for a number of different training courses, employee travel, and potentially wages too.

We’ve seen positive progress be made over the past year with regards to the flexi-job apprenticeship schemes allowing apprentices to work across multiple projects with different employers. But more can be done to ensure that the taking-up of apprentices by SMEs is somewhat higher than it currently is. The expansion of the ‘degree apprenticeship’ concept could be another way of doing this.

The Chancellor continues to evidence his desire to back British small business. Mindful that firms now are facing significant pressures, the increase to the employment allowance and the cut in fuel duty will provide welcome reprieve.

But, as we think ahead the Autumn Budget, the challenge over the coming period is for government and businesses alike to engage and determine those steps which will further safeguard our economy and ensure that the UK is internationally unrivalled in its ability to instigate and incubate small business growth. I will certainly be passing on the thoughts on the Tax Plan that I’ve gathered from business leaders in my constituency to the Treasury. I urge others to do the same.