By Daniel Hunter
A snap poll has suggested many small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners don’t believe the outcome of local council elections will make any difference to their business.
Those were the findings of research by the Forum of Private Business on the eve of local government elections for many voters across the country on Thursday.
The study found that 81% of firms believe the political outcome would not make a difference, with just 19% thinking otherwise.
It follows on the back of more extensive research published by the Forum in March which uncovered deep apathy among business owners towards local government, especially when it came to supplementary business rates and whether councils could be trusted to spend extra cash levied from small firms in a way that would help the sector.
“We’re really not too surprised that so many of our members have low expectations of what their local council can do for them,” said the Forum’s Head of Policy, Alex Jackman.
“You only have to look around to see the poor repair of many roads, unaffordable town centre parking, and the tired persona of so many high streets to see why these opinions form, particularly with business rates so high. It really is an unsatisfactory indictment of the way many local councils operate that the business community has so little confidence in their abilities to affect meaningful change for small firms.”
The March research similarly identified scant enthusiasm among business for the Local Government Finance Act, with many doubtful the redistribution of monies from supplementary business rates would actually benefit them.
The Act includes provision for an extra levy payable on top of standard business rates which would then be spent on local projects within a particular local authority area, money raised would then only be spent after consultation by councils with local businesses as to what would benefit the local area.
The Forum’s research showed well over half of members polled, at 56%, felt the changes would have minimal or no impact on their businesses, while 6% felt that they would end up paying for something that did not benefit them. Just 22% felt there would be a positive impact on the local economy.
Further, just under 20% of respondents were confident their local council could work with local businesses to improve the local economy, with 33% sceptical and 43% very sceptical.
“The overriding message was that small businesses have little confidence in their local councils to spend their money wisely, and certainly in a way that would bring benefit to their business on the ground. Our snap poll backs this up, and it’s clear that there’s real apathy to local government among business owners,” added Jackman.
“The problem is also that business rates have rocketed by 13% in just three years, and few firms actually see any value for money. If we use potholes as a measure of success, then local councils, by and large, need to try much, much harder.”