Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
I recently went to Southend to meet with some business owners in Essex. My mission was simple: I wanted to hear what the Government can do to make life easier for small businesses.
I believe that if you want to hear what’s really going on in the country you’ve sometimes got to travel outside the M25. During my time at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, I’ve been lucky enough to travel across this great country to meet with activists and supporters from all walks of life – students, young professionals, families concerned about the cost of council tax, retired folks, right-wing activists, left-wing activists (yes – there are some left-leaning people who want their taxes spent efficiently!) and of course many people who run a local business.
Entrepreneurship is awesome. I’m always annoyed at people who claim that government is to thank for human progress and improvements in society. Because, more often than not, it’s the private sector that finds new and innovative ways of improving our standards of living. Businesses generate the wealth that pays for the public sector, and employ most of the workforce. Small businesses alone provide employment to 60 per cent of the workers in the UK.
It’s critical that the Chancellor prioritises helping small businesses in the next budget by making taxes lower and simpler, especially as we approach March next year. But which taxes should be cut, and how?
Over a two hour discussion in a fish and chips restaurant on the beach, I asked this question. Unsurprisingly, nearly every business owner cited business rates as a killer, as well as council tax. Most of the day to day impediments were blamed on local government, since that provided their most frequent interface between themselves and the public sector. There was a real sense of frustration that their local councils not only take so much money away from them through taxation and charges, but also often made expanding their businesses all the more difficult by standing in the way. Many at the lunch were concerned raised the apprenticeship levy, parking charges and corporation tax, too.
But hough I travelled to Southend to get a better idea on which taxes the TPA should call to be lowered in the next budget, I came back to London with a lot more than that. I returned with a sense of admiration for the people I met.
One business owner said she woke up at 4:30am every morning to get some admin work done before the calls start coming in at 7am from her staff. She spends the rest of the day answering the phones and liaising between her clients and employees, before settling down at 6 or 7pm. She said that the biggest burden from the government isn’t necessarily ever higher taxes – which she is happy to pay – but bureaucracy.
That’s a word which came up over and over again. A man who runs a manufacturing business, and exports to predominantly non-EU markets, was livid with the extent to which the government keeps piling on new rules, regulations and standards. Some of the standards are so obvious that any functioning business would meet them, and the hours spent having to deal with the increasing regulatory burden and complicated tax code is time that could have been spent improving his business and seeking out new opportunities.
In return for taking a huge risk with their own money, finding a niche in the market, establishing a viable idea and employing people in the community, the Government hammers these small business owners with higher taxes and bureaucracy that they can’t hope to keep up with.
The Left talk about businesses as if they are always the bad guys – rich, powerful, elitist and greedy. In their eyes, any success or profit should be punished by higher taxation. You’ll often find the likes of John McDonnell accuse them of ‘not paying their fair share’. I wonder if he would have the courage to tell these small business owners in Southend that they should be forced to hand over even more of their hard-earned profits to the state.
The Conservative Party should be the natural home for these small business people. Instead of adding to the burden and disincentivising entrepreneurship, the Chancellor has an opportunity in the forthcoming budget to give small business owners, who are some of the hardest working people in the country, a well-deserved break.