The Queen has delivered the government’s legislative agenda for the next two years to parliament, in a Queen’s speech that failed to touch on some of the key small business manifesto pledges the Conservatives made in the run up to this year’s general election.
In the speech, the government missed the chance to introduce several reforms that would improve confidence and reduce uncertainty for small UK business owners, including a full review of business rates and changes to corporate governance rules – two of the most important pledges Theresa May made to small businesses during her election campaign.
Focussing heavily on Brexit, the Queen announced the introduction of legislation that would prioritise free trade and go some way to ensuring UK businesses would maintain access to EU skills and labour as negotiations continue.
A customs bill made clear the intention for the UK to remain a standalone customs regime after exiting the EU, and ensured the flexibility of future trade deals with both EU and non-EU states and UK government control over the import and export of goods. Trade legislation introduced renewed protection for British businesses from unfair trading practices.
Alongside new Brexit bills and an immigration bill, another positive aspect of the speech for small UK companies was a renewed commitment to encourage and support exporting to new overseas markets.
The Queen’s speech confirmed that in the UK, the national living wage will be increased to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020, and legislated for the national insurance contributions (NICs) changes the chancellor announced in his latest Budget and Autumn Statement speeches, leaving out the controversial NIC changes for the self-employed following significant public backlash.
A commitment was made to the future of the digital economy. The Queen’s speech document read: “We will help digital companies at every stage of their growth, including by supporting access to the finance, talent and infrastructure needed for success and by making it easier for companies and consumers to do business online.”
Commenting on the Queen’s speech, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman, Mike Cherry, said: “It is disappointing that this Queen’s speech was light on domestic measures for small business.
“The government must knuckle down to tackle issues such as reform of the business rates system and changes to corporate governance, to stop big companies badly treating their small business suppliers and contractors.”
However, Cherry conceded small businesses would be “pleased with the ambition to provide certainty as we head towards Brexit and the commitment to low taxation.”
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