Telling the truth about SME life today

Autumn Statement: Cut some red tape!

When George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement from the Despatch Box on Wednesday, I hope the first few pages will be dominated by measures to improve the business landscape for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The contribution SMEs make to the country’s economic engine should never be underestimated, but it will stall if firms cannot grow.

Measures to boost employment, apprenticeship training and reduce red tape have to remain integral to the chancellor’s support of UK business if SMEs are to play an effective part in the economic recovery.

As I wrote in this column last week, we are overburdened with red tape and I hope the chancellor backs his colleagues in the Business Department with their plans to scrap two pieces of legislation for every one that’s brought in.

The levels and complexity of red tape firms have to deal with makes business difficult and is a distraction to building our companies and creating jobs.

On the subject of jobs, while the immediate challenge of getting the economy back on an even keel is front and centre in the chancellor’s mind, he cannot ignore the long-term issue of building a skilled and competent workforce that can maintain any future economic stability.

Apprenticeships have to be at the heart of the government’s skills policy and not an “add-on” or some scheme hijacked by big business to funding the creation of future generations of shelf stackers rather than the engineers and technicians we really need.

Funds have to be ring-fenced for real apprenticeships in sectors that will improve our social and economic future.

The Autumn Statement also provides the perfect opportunity for George Osborne to take a very public stand against the big corporate tax avoiders.

After considerable head shaking and finger wagging in the direction of these morally-bankrupt corporations, it’s time for action.

Tax avoidance has become as socially unacceptable as drink driving. Now we need the laws to clamp down on these economic leeches and make them contribute to an economy they are sucking dry.

Much publicised cases like Starbucks, Amazon and Google may just be the tip of the iceberg and other big corporations have paid disproportionate amounts of tax against the turnover of the businesses.

According to reports, Starbucks has paid ?8.6m tax in 14 years, Amazon has not paid any corporation tax on £3.3bn UK revenue and Google, who have paid ?6m on £395m UK revenue.

With all the billions of pounds not paid in tax by the corporate cowboys, you have to wonder how many more slightly smaller – but nevertheless huge – corporations are up to the same tricks?

The chancellor should use his Autumn Statement to introduce stricter tax regimes that prevent large scale avoidance by big corporations and demonstrate to the electorate that this despicable behaviour should not be tolerated.

Charlie Mullins is founder and CEO of Pimlico Plumbers.

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