By Daniel Hunter
HM Revenue & Customs officials are to gain hands-on experience of life in small businesses courtesy of ‘Business Buddy’, a Forum of Private Business initiative that has already seen more than 70 politicians placed in firms in their constituencies.
In the first-ever HMRC visit, which takes place on Thursday, 24 May, HMRC staff will spend time at Sinnett & Tansley, a firm of Chartered Accountants in Reading.
Last year, high-profile political Business Buddy placements included Business Secretary and Twickenham MP Vince Cable at a furniture manufacturer, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham at a chemical factory in his Leigh constituency and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, who took to the tills at a fruit and vegetable shop in Brighton.
In addition, the Tourism Minister John Penrose spent time learning about abseiling and other activities at an outdoor pursuits centre near Weston-super-Mare while Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin visited a West Dorset pie shop.
The scheme is being repeated this year and widened to include HMRC staff, who have signed up to the initiative in order to develop a greater understanding of the trials, tribulations and opportunities facing small business owners in order to improve working relationships with them.
“Clearly, there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. We are widening the Business Buddy scheme so that HMRC officials can take part in order to gain a greater understanding of what it takes to grow and run a small firm, and also explore how they can work together more effectively, for the good of the economy as a whole,” said the Forum’s Chief Executive, Phil Orford.
An HMRC spokesman said: “The Business Buddy scheme provides a great opportunity for our staff to learn what life is like for small business owners. Understanding the challenges small firms face helps us design better services for the future and support them in getting their tax right quickly and easily.”
Ahead of the visit, David Tansley of Sinnett & Tansley said: I think that it is important that government and its agencies understand the problems that small businesses face as government plays a big part in shaping the environment that these businesses operate in.”
Business owners taking part in the 2011 scheme were asked to complete a survey about their experiences. In all, 87% of respondents said that the state of the economy was a major issue they discussed with their local political representative.
In addition, 66% of respondents cited ‘local business issues’ on their doorsteps as a leading topic of conversation, 66% mentioned regulation in general and 61% consumer and business confidence. Other areas of concern included levels of taxation, health and safety regulation and workforce skills.
Overall, 53% of respondents said they found the meetings ‘very useful’, 26% ‘useful’ and 18% ‘quite useful’. A total of 71% of participants said that their meetings ended in agreed action points and 97% said they would take part in the scheme again.
Business Buddy is part of the Forum’s Get Britain Trading campaign, which aims to both raise awareness of the important economic role played by small businesses and lobby for the Government to tackle common problems which prevent small businesses from growing and creating jobs.
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