By Marcus Leach

A number of key issues affecting small businesses must be addressed by Government in next week’s Autumn Statement if the economy is to grow next year, a not-for-profit lobby group has said in a letter to ministers this week.

The Forum of Private Business has written to Business Secretary, Vince Cable; Small Business Minister, Mark Prisk; and Chancellor, George Osborne - who will deliver the statement on Tuesday — outlining its main arguments for change.

In line with the Forum’s Get Britain Trading campaign, the Forum wants to see the Government take action in a number of crucial areas, including education and training, export, tax, finance, and bank lending.

If trading conditions for smaller businesses improve, the Forum believes the small to medium enterprise (SME) sector will be able to deliver growth in the wider UK economy and provide much-needed jobs to rein in spiralling unemployment.

Key points in the Forum’s letter ask for:

- A focus is schools to improve employability — employees require work ready recruits.
- A greater business voice in how skills money is spent — employers are eager for either a voucher scheme for skills training or NI reductions for apprentices.
- Support from Government on raising awareness of mid-caps towards exporting for the first time.
- To ensure the Regional Growth Fund delivers funds on a much quicker basis by relaxing requirements on due diligence for low value bids, while continuing to support and clarify the role of LEPs.
- Help rural businesses access the support they need, including support for shared banking services where counter services are diminishing.
- Ensure retailers who treat suppliers unfairly are properly punished with fining powers available to the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
- Business Rates frozen in April.
- Postpone all fuel duty increases scheduled for next year.
- Further tax breaks for private lenders, as well as equity investors, which would ease credit conditions for small firms.
- Do more to increase confidence in alternative sources of finance for low turnover businesses, and introduce tax incentives for alternate lenders.

“Following the announcement in the summer of the second stage of the Growth Review as part of the Autumn Statement, the Forum has consulted widely with our members and taken part in policy discussion across Government,” the Forum’s Chief Executive, Phil Orford.

“The policy proposals outlined in the letter to ministers, which will support not just our members but the UK’s wider small business community, have been formed by these discussions and are largely aimed at helping SMEs trade profitably in the coming year.

“The Forum believes one of the key issues facing the UK economy is a business sector lacking sufficient confidence to invest. And while the effect of external market conditions is difficult to control, one action Government can take is to set out clear financial and regulatory domestic road map in the years ahead. Above all we recommend the Government shows consistency, clarity, and certainty.

“It’s our belief that the recommendations set out in this letter are capable of generating further growth in the private sector, and thereby support a jobs recovery in the UK.

“We hope the ministers will find our input useful."

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