Queen’s Speech outlines government’s legislative agenda

The Queen has delivered her annual speech at the state opening of Parliament, in which she outlined the government’s legislative agenda.

download (9)

This year’s speech differed to speeches given in previous years: it outlined the government’s legislative plans for the next two years, as opposed to one.

Earlier in the week, the government took the decision to cancel the 2018 Queen’s Speech in order to give MPs ‘extra time to deal with Brexit laws’.

Brexit proposals granted to the UK government include the power to make any future changes to UK laws, flexibility to accommodate trade agreements with the EU and other countries, control over the import and export of goods and the ability to end the free movement of EU citizens into the UK.

Other proposals outlined in the speech include a data protection bill designed to strengthen consumers’ rights, a national insurance contributions (NICs) bill aimed at ‘making the NIC system fairer’, and a financial guidance and claims bill, which establishes a new statutory body to co-ordinate the provision of debt, money and pension guidance.

Business groups have responded to the Queen’s Speech. Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: ‘While Brexit isn’t the top immediate priority for many businesses, firms of every size and shape want to avoid turbulence and confusion during the Brexit transition. The government’s proposed bills on trade, customs and immigration must minimise adjustment costs and maximise opportunities.’

Meanwhile, Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), commented: ‘It’s good to see commitment to special support to help British businesses export to new markets around the world, which we look forward to engaging with the government on.’

Business groups call for ‘softer’ Brexit

Five business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), have called for the government to secure continued access to the European single market until a final Brexit deal can be struck with the EU.

brexit

The letter to Business Secretary Greg Clark calls for the government to ‘put the economy first’, and to ‘prioritise an early agreement on guarantees for EU citizens’ already residing in the UK.

A final agreement between the UK and the EU should guarantee certain economic principles, as outlined in the letter. These include securing tariff-free goods trade between the UK and the EU, establishing a flexible system for the movement of labour and skills between the UK and the EU, and protecting the benefits of free trade agreements currently delivered through the EU.

The letter, which is also signed by the Institute of Directors (IoD) and manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, comes as Brexit Secretary David Davis enters into formal Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Commenting on the negotiations, Mr Davis said: ‘I want to reiterate at the outset of these talks that the UK will remain a committed partner and ally of our friends across the continent. And while there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear – a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.’

The UK is set to leave the EU by the end of March 2019.

Business groups react to General Election result

With the 2017 General Election resulting in a Hung Parliament, the UK’s leading business groups have been giving their reactions.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) has warned that businesses have now been ‘thrown into political limbo’.

election

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is urging politicians to form a functioning government which offers security and places the economy at the heart of its agenda.

CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said:

‘For the next government, the need and opportunity to deliver an open, competitive and fair post-Brexit economy that works for everyone across all our nations and regions has never been more important.’

Meanwhile, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for a delay to the beginning of Brexit talks.

FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said:

‘It is important to go into the Brexit talks from a position of strength, focused on getting the best deal possible for trade and access to workers and skills. Negotiations should be led by a government and a Prime Minister that will be in place for the duration, and so we call for a delay to the scheduled start of negotiations rather than a rush to begin in 11 days’ time. The need for a transition period now becomes even stronger, providing the time to get Brexit right.’

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also emphasised the ongoing uncertainty for business communities, and echoed the FSB‘s call for a delay to Brexit negotiations.

Dr Adam Marshall, BCC Director General, said:

‘Whilst companies have for many months done their best to screen out political noise in order to focus on their own operations, this result will prove much harder for UK businesses to ignore.

‘No business would walk into a negotiation without clear objectives, an agreed starting position, and a strong negotiating team. It is hard to see how Brexit negotiations could begin without answers on these important questions.’

FSB outlines ‘urgent steps’ businesses should take to protect against cyber-attacks

In light of the recent cyber ransomware attack, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is urging UK businesses to take ’urgent steps‘ to protect themselves.

images

The business group is advising businesses to put cyber protection insurance in place, as well as check for updates to their computer operating systems and anti-malware software.

Firms should also ensure that they have any essential data backed up: in the event that the worst does happen, the FSB has suggested that this would ensure that data ’cannot then be held to ransom‘.

Dave Stallon, Commercial Director at the FSB, said: ’We are raising the alarm with the UK‘s 5.5 million-strong small business community. It is vital that small businesses and the self-employed prioritise this, and that they do it today.

’These businesses have limited resources, time and expertise to deal with the current and growing cyber-crime threat, but there is specific assistance available. They should follow our guidance, and do it right now.‘

The FSB is urging businesses to keep up to date on the latest cyber security advice by visiting the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) website: this can be accessed here.

Avoid hitting self-employed with extra costs, warns FSB

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is calling on all political parties to avoid targeting the UK’s 4.8 million self-employed with post-election tax rises.

With the General Election approaching, the business group has published its manifesto, ‘Small Business, Big Ambition’, which sets out a number of key steps that it believes the next government should take.

uk economy

This includes avoiding increases in taxes such as national insurance and offering the self-employed greater recognition in the welfare system by, for example, bringing the Maternity Allowance closer in line with Statutory Maternity Pay.

‘The UK’s army of 4.8 million self-employed are the backbone of this country and should be recognised for the value they add both to the economy and their local communities,’ commented the FSB’s National Chairman, Mike Cherry.

‘Small businesses and the self-employed will be vital to a successful post-Brexit economy. Politicians seeking their votes should be on their side and against hitting them with extra costs.’

With Britain’s departure from the EU likely to dominate much of the political debate, the FSB has also put forward its suggestions for securing a pro-business Brexit. This includes creating small business export vouchers alongside export tax credits, to help small firms trade with new markets for the first time.

However, the FSB warned against overlooking the importance of domestic issues.

‘Brexit is clearly going to feature heavily in the election campaign, and rightly so. But it must not dominate debate at the expense of other important domestic issues for small businesses,’ said Mr Cherry.

‘There are a series of decisions required by new government ministers in their first 100 days in office. From export support to tackling our late payments crisis, to co-funding apprenticeships and a new consensus on the future of business rates, to the survival of small businesses on our high streets and in our communities.

‘Our manifesto sets out what small businesses want to see from all major parties and candidates standing on 8 June. Millions of votes are at stake’.

Local councils urged to take ‘swift action’ following business rates increase

Councils across England are being urged to distribute quickly the funds allocated for firms hit by the recent hike in business rates.

business

The call came from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and follows the controversial revaluation of business rates, which took effect on 1 April.

Last month the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a range of measures intended to help those worst hit by the rates increase, which included providing English local authorities with funding to support £300m of discretionary relief.

However, critics have warned of potential chaos and uncertainty as many businesses do not yet know whether they will benefit from the relief fund.

Commenting, FSB National Chairman, Mike Cherry, said: ‘The promise of a £300m relief fund for local authorities to help those hardest hit is welcome. But we urge councils to make small firms aware of their allocation and finalise the mechanism for distributing it as soon as possible.

‘What we have to remember is that bills have already landed. That being the case, any firm that pays their full business rates without realising they qualify for relief should have their overpayment returned automatically, and swiftly.’

It is thought that around 510,000 businesses have seen a rise in their rates bills, with some firms expected to incur an increase of up to 50%.

Responding to the concerns, the government said it was working with local authorities to ensure the extra support ‘gets to businesses as soon as possible’.

MPs call for review into costs of quarterly tax reporting for small businesses

The Treasury Select Committee has requested an independent review into the estimated costs of mandatory quarterly tax reporting for small firms.

The government’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) plans include requirements for small businesses to submit quarterly tax updates to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). However, many believe that the costs of the proposals to firms have been underestimated. Now the committee of MPs has called for an independent review by the Administrative Burdens Advisory Board (ABAB) to properly assess the impact.

download-1

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has welcomed the independent review. It recently commissioned an external economics consultancy to provide an estimate of the costs of MTD to small firms. The consultancy found that the average annual cost would be £2,770 per business.

Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the FSB, said: ‘We are delighted to see the Treasury Committee embrace our recommendation for a full pilot of mandatory quarterly tax reporting before MTD is launched.

‘Research commissioned by FSB indicates that HMRC has significantly underestimated the true cost to small businesses of quarterly tax reporting. We therefore fully support the ABAB review and look forward to working with the body to further scrutinise HMRC’s implementation of MTD.’

Last year the ABAB stated that it held ‘significant concerns’ about mandatory quarterly tax reporting, and said that the proposals would be ‘more burdensome than they currently are with increased record keeping and compliance costs’.