As policy director at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) – the UK’s largest campaigning pressure group protecting the interests of small business owners and the self-employed – Mike Cherry is undeniably one of the most influential figures setting the agenda for small business.
Representing the FSB’s diverse mix of some 200,000 member firms at the most senior levels in government, Cherry meets regularly with ministers in both Westminster and Brussels to promote the interests of his organisation’s members and to provide those in government with the information they need to make informed small business policy decisions.
Last year, Business Advice named Cherry as one of 30 key Small Business Decision Makers – so we caught up with him to find out what his view of the small business landscape looked like in 2016.
Cherry has a long and comprehensive understanding of the FSB, having achieved success as a branch then regional chairman: supporting members and helping to shape local business policies. At a nationwide level, Cherry now has foreign and home affairs policy roles, as well as committee duties.
As policy director, Cherry oversaw a rebranding of the FSB last November. Recognising the organisation’s evolving membership, Cherry wanted the FSB to demonstrate itself as a modern, relevant organisation. “We needed to be more relevant for small businesses in the twenty-first century,” he said. “It’s crucial that we’re able to provide more support, not just to our existing members but to young entrepreneurs with innovative new startups.”
One initiative Cherry has introduced is a comprehensive range of online webinars addressing all aspects of starting and running small businesses across various UK regions. The FSB also brought in a 24/7 business helpline for members, as well as an advice service for HMRC-related enquiries.
“It can be a lonely place out there for small businesses,” said Cherry. “As a business, knowing you have the strong support of a body like the FSB can help deal with issues before they get out of hand, and provides a strong pipeline through which to feed in views and access a range of opinions.”
Cherry is proud of his organisation’s latest small business manifesto, calling it the FSB’s “best ever”. Started in 2014 and submitted to government just before last year’s general election, the manifesto contained a multitude of recommendations that have to some extent been picked up. In it was the suggestion to update the business rate system: encouraging transparency, reducing unseen business costs and promoting companies to invest.
“That manifesto urged the government to look more into the medium term to deliver what business needs when it needs it,” said Cherry. “Businesses need long-term support that transcends parliamentary process. We’ve aimed to address this by focussing on the long term agenda for exporting, or the skills gap, for example. Wave after wave of changing initiatives, in place due to certain policies or the allocation of certain funding pots, is not always good for business.”
The year ahead will see the FSB working further to reduce the cost of doing business for small firms. For Cherry, the introduction of the national Living Wage and auto-enrolment commitments, along with the planned changes to dividend payments, will have huge implications, as will the move over towards a digital tax system.
“There is the wider tax agenda that needs to be properly addressed before a complete shift to digital takes place,” Cherry commented. “Tax has some of the most burdensome regulations, and it’s taking its toll on small business.
“The system is already difficult to understand, and our members are concerned about the administrative pressure of quarterly tax reporting, which could add £3,600 a year in costs. Whilst we support HMRC’s digital agenda, our view is that it shouldn’t dictate how small businesses run.”
Cherry advises that proper planning will become even more essential for small business owners in 2016. Entrepreneurs need to properly understand how to take their products to market, and ensure the appropriate financing is in place. “Getting things off the ground is still the most challenging aspect in starting a business,” Cherry added. “We’ve seen far too many big multinationals abusing supply chains, making it harder for the small players.”
“The small business commissioner, when brought in, will have a very important role in addressing the fundamental shift in business culture that’s needed in this country,” Cherry went on to say. “Whomever that person will be, they need to be given the resources and be able to garner the respect that the position demands to enforce change.”
With the successful rebranding of the FSB and with increasing numbers of small firms joining the organisation’s rank and file, it’s safe to assume that Cherry will likely be amongst Business Advice’s top 30 Small Business Decision Makers for the foreseeable future.
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