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Back small businesses in 2021 Budget, says FSB’s Michael Sandys, Area Leader for Liverpool City Region

With just a week to go before the 2021 Autumn Budget and Spending Review, FSB is calling on the Government to back small businesses by easing the huge tax burden they face, creating certainty around future funding and opening up more public contracts to small firms.

Writing to the Treasury to introduce wide-ranging recommendations, FSB is warning that small business recovery is being held back by rising costs, supply chain disruption and the imminent hikes to National Insurance contributions (NICs) as well as dividends taxation – a move FSB believes could cause 50,000 more people to be left out of work.

As a result of the increase, annual Employer NICs for a small business with five employees on salaries of £31,000 will rise to £16,500. The total annual cost of the hike to the small business community is set to be £5.7bn.  

Further, FSB research shows that close to a third (31%) of small firms would be forced to raise prices if the National Living Wage (NLW) increased to £9.42 in April, with a similar proportion (27%) of owners saying they would absorb the increase themselves, recruit less (15%) or reduce hours (15%).

FSB is also urging the Government to focus on driving value in public sector spending, particularly with regard to procurement. Just one in five (20%) small businesses have bid for public contracts in the last three years, with many deterred by levels of bureaucracy and minimum contract values.    

FSB’s costed Budget submission, which contains over 60 recommendations, sets out close to £2 of savings for every £1 of additional spending proposed. It represents a new playbook for how to return the UK economy to growth and prosperity.

In three key proposals, the FSB is calling on the Government to:    

  • Increase the Employment Allowance to save small businesses £5,000 rather £4,000 on their annual jobs tax bills. This could help protect jobs in the smallest employers – those with four or fewer employees – who will otherwise be hardest hit by the end of furlough and the increased jobs tax (estimated cost: £455 million). The Government’s own figures show that just 640,000 small businesses will receive full protection from its planned Employer NICs hike thanks to the Employment Allowance as it stands. The figure represents 10.5% of the small business community, according to latest Government statistics.
  • Expand Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) to premises with a Rateable Value of £25,000, thereby removing an additional 200,000 small firms that are disproportionately based in levelling-up target regions such as the North West, North East, Yorkshire, and South West of England from the system (estimated cost: £1.1 billion).     
  • Save on cross-government procurement spend by 3% by breaking up contracts and bringing a greater diversity of smaller businesses into supply chains, meaning improved productivity and resilience, whilst reducing regulatory requirements by a third, in accordance with the British Columbia model (estimated saving: £8.5 billion).

Other measures put forward include maintaining commitments to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and encouraging start-ups through expanding​ Start-Up Loans and a refreshed and reformed​ Kickstart Start-up scheme to replace the New Enterprise Allowance – a programme reportedly under threat, despite delivering greater success in helping people to join workplaces than the Work Programme.

FSB Merseyside and Cheshire’s Michael Sandys, Area Leader for Liverpool City Region, said: “This really must be a Budget for small businesses. The Government’s relationship with UK SMEs is in serious jeopardy, particularly following the disappointing recent NI and dividends tax hikes – the former amounting to a tax on jobs just as businesses are struggling to recruit and the latter adding insult to injury for company directors after a hard 18 months in which they have had no pandemic income support. Together they mark the biggest permanent small business tax hike in modern British history.

“Embracing the measures in FSB’s submission – including extending the NI Employment Allowance, expanding Small Business Rate Relief and opening-up public procurement – would go some way towards reassuring small business owners that the Government is on their side.”

A Duty to Reform – small businesses losing £25 million per year in tax compliance

FSB’s new publication, A Duty to Reform: Making tax work for small businesses in a digital world, shows that, collectively, the small business community is losing £25 billion a year to tax compliance – a figure which does not reflect the 300 million working hours spent on preparing and filing records. Small firms are each spending an average of £4,100 and 52 hours a year on tax compliance.

For those participating in the Government’s flagship Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme – designed to fully digitalise the tax reporting process – the average cost of compliance (£4,562) is considerably higher than for those yet to migrate (£2,960).

Those in scope of MTD must purchase compatible software, subscriptions for which have significantly added to compliance costs. There are concerns that these costs will grow further as the initiative is extended to cover more taxes.

Seven in ten (70%) small businesses have made the MTD switch. Among them, a similar proportion (71%) say that the move has resulted in increased costs and time lost to learning new processes. 

The report also finds that the requirement to register for VAT once a firm has £85,000 of turnover serves as a barrier to growth for one in four (24%) firms, equivalent to 1.4 million businesses across the UK.   

Elsewhere, the study flags a lack of awareness among small firms of the tax incentives they’re entitled to – fewer than one in 20 (4%) see the Government’s new Super Deduction for plant & machinery investment as a top incentive to invest and expand. 

When asked to identify desired tax reliefs that would assist growth, more than a third (34%) cite “a reduction in National Insurance Contributions”.

Recommendations published as part of A Duty to Reform include:

  • Ensuring the Government takes a stand where MTD is concerned to prevent unfair profit-seeking behaviour among software providers, with the Competition and Markets Authority intervening if necessary.  
  • Installing an MTD feature which nudges businesses towards relevant tax reliefs and investment incentives.  
  • Increasing the VAT turnover registration threshold, which has not moved in-line with inflation, to encourage those bunching beneath the £85,000 turnover point to expand whilst adopting the Office for Tax Simplification’s proposals for a smoothing mechanism. 
  • Reforming the Super Deduction, with consideration given to scaling back the cost of the break – making room for incentives that would benefit a greater number ofsmallerfirms – and changing qualifying criteria to make the break applicable to intangible assets such as software and intellectual property.  
  • Increasing the Employment Allowance from £4,000 to £5,000 to help firms recruit, retain and retrain more staff as furlough ends and operating costs rise.
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