John Allan

2016 will be a year of big decisions for small businesses, according to John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

In his New Year message to the UK's millions of small businesses, Mr Allan said 2016 will "involve both new challenges and opportunities".

Read the full message here:

"If you ever think about getting into business for yourself, there is one thing you are going to need to get comfortable with - change. Smart businesses know that change is where it’s at. It’s where the opportunities lie. If you can’t change, or you can’t adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, you are going to be left behind and so is your business. 2016 is going to be a year of decisions, debate and change. Small business owners are flexible, and ready to adapt. Even in the face of disasters like the floods in Cumbria, small business can be relied on to step up, and take adversity in their stride.

Some people see change as something to be resisted at all costs. But this is not an idea that FSB members have ever supported. Whether it’s better ways to manage your business banking, or finding completely new products and services not even conceived a decade ago - small businesses are always found at the forefront of innovation – often leaving big business scrambling to catch up.

This is also true of those of us who represent the small business community. Just before Christmas FSB updated our brand to reflect the UK’s dynamic and changing small business sector. More and more business is being conducted online and the entrepreneurs leading it are more diverse than ever before - as are the business models they rely on. More importantly, our members expect more from us. We can’t just be the voice of small business anymore – they want us to be experts in business too – offering more advice, further support and taking greater leadership on the issues which matter to them. This is the sort of ongoing change any successful business needs to take in its stride.

Last year we saw a change to the UK Government, and the first majority Government elected since 2005. 2016 will see major elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, elections for local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners across England. Each of these will set the political agenda for small business, putting in place Ministers, Parliamentarians, Mayors, Councillors and Commissioners who will all take decisions that impact on small firms and change the business landscape. We may even see the scheduling of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. FSB in every nation, region and branch will be monitoring events closely, making sure small businesses are at the heart of the debate and our voice is heard, and challenging those standing for election to say #ibacksmallbusiness. We expect those standing to demonstrate they have solutions to the real problems small business face such as late payment or poor access to finance.

The Chancellor has called for the UK to become “a higher wage, lower tax, and lower welfare society”. A catchy sound bite for the newspapers - but it’s increasingly clear that businesses are expected to step up and play a key part in delivering it. Next year will see the introduction of new policies like the National Living Wage, the small business rollout of the workplace pension, changes to dividend taxation, and the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy. Each of these changes will bring their own challenges and require all businesses to adapt – but they also present opportunities.

It’s right for businesses to share the fruits of success with their staff, help them save for retirement and invest in training the next generation of employees. For example, we know most of our members already pay their employees over the more generous Living Wage set by the Living Wage Foundation. But some businesses, particularly in retail, heath and social care will struggle to make the changes needed to meet this challenge. However the change will also force innovation to improve productivity and find new ways to do business.

The truth is the business environment will always change, and good businesses are well used to dealing with whatever is thrown at them – that is why FSB was set up in 1974, and that is why hundreds of thousands of small business owners and the self-employed are our members. FSB’s role will be to make sure that where change is proposed – it is well thought-through and small businesses are properly consulted and supported. Our grassroots are what make us different, and the evidence we source from our membership will be invaluable to policy makers in 2016.

But Government cannot leave it all to us. Minsters have important decisions of their own to make. In 2016 there will be devolution of powers to regions around the UK, and each FSB Branch and region need to be influencing those plans where they affect our members – on transport, on trading, and on the economy. Nationally, there will be decision on expanding much-needed airport capacity, and we hope the Airports Commission recommendation will be pursued quickly. Improvements to broadband provision must be fast-tracked, so that every small business can realise the opportunity online to improve their business.

No change or challenge is insurmountable. Indeed in 2015 small businesses continued to show consistently high levels of confidence about the future – both in terms of future business growth and in their plans to hire new people. To make sure we support these positive ambitions I hope more people will think about supporting their local small businesses. This idea is at the centre of Small Business Saturday. FSB is a trusted partner of this independent grassroots campaign, which took place in December designed simply to celebrate all 5.4 million of the UK’s small businesses.

This year around £623 million was spent with small businesses on Saturday 05 December – up over 20 per cent on last year – and 75% of local authorities did their bit, up from 55% in 2014. With 100,000 tweets, the campaign reached more than 25 million people. FSB regions up and down the country played their part.

Whatever change 2016 brings, the UK’s smaller businesses are well set to meet the challenge. This is why FSB will be setting our sights further ahead. In February we will be bringing together leading politicians and policy makers at our Policy Conference in London where we will discuss the needs of smaller businesses between now and 2020. We will discuss how to support fast-growth businesses, how to rebalance the economy right across the UK and how to nurture the entrepreneurs of the future and improve competition.

Later in the year we will be in Glasgow for our annual UK National Conference, with further blockbuster political speakers to be announced, to set out their stalls after the Budget and before the May elections. Members will be listening hard, and expressing what they need to drive the economy. I’m sure 2016 will involve both new challenges and opportunities – but we’ve never been afraid of change."