Rising costs more important than Brexit for small firms says FSB survey
DOMESTIC issues are as important as Brexit among the election priorities for small firms in Northern Ireland, according to new research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
With operating costs at their highest in four years, the FSB fears that is making it harder to invest, expand and create jobs - and is sucking the lifeblood from the engine room of the economy.
"Small firms accounting for three quarters of turnover and employment in the private sector - significantly more than the average of the UK as a whole,” FSB's regional policy chairman Wilfred Mitchell says.
"They - and the self-employed - are vital to ensuring the success of the local economy, so the next government must help them to thrive and avoid putting more barriers – both financial and regulatory – in their way."
"For us, lowering the cost of doing business is as important as negotiating a Brexit deal," he added.
The FSB asked thousands of its members to identify the single most important issue for their business, and throughout the UK more than three quarters (76 per cent) of the respondents prioritised issues other than Brexit for the next government.
A majority (61 per cent) of respondents still identify delivering a good Brexit deal as one of their top priorities alongside improving support for the self employed (46 per cent), investment in infrastructure (38 per cent) and investment in skills (37 per cent).
Mr Mitchell added: “Clearly Brexit is the backdrop to this election. Small businesses want to see easy-to-use trade deals, continued access to the skills and workforce that they need, and a replacement for EU funding and investment streams.
"But it is also clear from this member survey that there are plenty of domestic issues that will also be crucial in ensuring the success of small businesses over the course of the next Parliament, so we are urging candidates to keep the domestic agenda to the fore as they contest the forthcoming election and make their commitments to small business.”
FSB's national election manifesto sets out a number of priorities for the next government, including protecting the self-employed from being singled-out for tax grabs such as higher national insurance, and helping the self-employed access equal maternity pay and fairer treatment under universal credit.
Its manifesto also calls for new measures to curb supply-chain bullying by big businesses of their small business suppliers, new protections for small businesses in their community, and reforms to business rates, energy bills, R&D tax credits and public procurement. It also urges the next government to freeze fuel duty and insurance premium tax in the next Budget.