We all talk about small businesses – but what about the really micro business? Particularly here in Devon, these one or two person businesses with turnovers of less than £100,000 outnumber many times over the “bigger” small business. Talking to these businesses and to the Federation of Small Businesses, it is clear special help is needed. I sat down with George Osborne on Wednesday and set out one thing I thought he could do to help. First of all look to introduce a limited employer’s NI relief for these businesses when they take on one extra employee. It is so often this third person which is the hardest to afford and the biggest investment needed to get the business to the next stage. I am pleased to say George has agreed to look at this –and I am keeping my fingers crossed!
Employment issues are also a particular concern for a small business –they don’t have Human Resources departments to advise them –they just have to cope as best they can. The legislation is complicated and extensive –and looking to get worse rather than better in the short term. So I stood up to speak in an Adjournment Debate to ask the Minister to review the government’s plans to drop the default retirement age. Of course we should help those that want to keep on working to work, but where we are now, there is no mechanism to enable a sensible discussion to be had between employer and employee about what they really want to do. The consequence may well be older people who would rather have a less demanding role but keep working can’t do that and young people who might otherwise have been taken on, can’t be because there is no room in the budget. And this isn’t just a small business problem.
My meetings this week with the Federation of Small Businesses and with Devon and Cornwall Business Council confirmed my views!
Getting property back in use
With the continuing challenge of affordable housing whether for social tenants or private individuals, something needs to be done to help existing houses be put back into repair and use. While we still need new housing, we need some incentive to get our builders back to work refurbishing existing housing stock –that makes sustainable and environmental sense! So my second “big ask” of George Osborne on Wednesday was to ask him to look at reducing the VAT on refurbishment.
As things stand there is much more incentive to build new homes because they are zero rated for VAT. By contrast refurbishment work comes at the full VAT rate shortly to be 20%. While because of EU rules we can’t reduce the VAT to zero we can cut it to 5%. My argument to George was that he would actually increase his tax take not reduce it because of the pent up demand for this sort of building work. George has agreed to look at it.
Clearly there are many things we can do to help this housing problem and to look at some of the options I met up with Housing Justice, a Christian group there to help local community church groups make better use of church land and to help with the housing problem more generally. But they do much more than that and can advise on setting up night shelters and befriending schemes. As I said to the group, they clearly can play a significant role in shaping the Big Society. They need to be taken seriously and be asked for their ideas and help when local authorities face these housing and homelessness problems.
The skills agenda
I was absolutely delighted on Friday to visit the Music Mill in Bradley Lane in Newton Abbot. This media training centre is the brainchild of recording industry legend Malcolm Toft and seasoned radio presenter Rick Edwards. Malcolm, a recording engineer guru who recorded David Bowie and Joe Cocker among others, is now a visiting professor for Leeds College of Music. They have recently been joined by Richard Digby-Smith who headed up the Island Records studio division working with groups including Led Zeppelin, Paul and Linda McCartney and The Eagles. In partnership with South Devon College they offer a fabulous opportunity for young people – and the not so young, to start a career in the pop world.
I then went on to visit South Devon College’s Management Training Centre at Heathfield. This is a great facility for local businesses where employees or the self employed can gain IT, accounting, leadership and other management skills to help them set up or grow existing businesses. We talked about a number of challenges facing businesses and what the government could do to help apprenticeships.
The main business this week was again the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. Other general debates included the Bloody Sunday Enquiry and the Strategic Defence and Security Review. On Monday I asked the Home Secretary in question time to give me some reassurance that cuts in the Police budgets would be back office not in the front line. On Tuesday I spoke in an adjournment debate about the Future of our Post Office Network and asked the Minister to look seriously at enabling Post Offices to offer more services to increase their income and to consider spending some of the money set aside to keep post offices open to pay post masters as well as on infrastructure. In Broadhempston I am endeavouring to get the Post Office to allow the local branch to open during afternoons and weekends so it can benefit from the trade of local businesses which tend to use post offices in the afternoon.
Out and About
I have been running a Christmas card competition among local primary schools. Along with local artists from Teignmouth and Bronwen Hewitt, Chief Executive of Dame Hannah Rogers at Seale Hayne, we judged 150 entries. It was wonderful to see just how much hard work had gone into each card design. The winners and runners up are a secret! A number of local businesses have donated prizes and I will be announcing the results shortly.
Creating sustainable communities is what the Transition Town movement is all about and I am delighted that we have two groups in the patch –one in Newton Abbot and the other, Teign Estuary, comprises Teignmouth, Bishopsteignton and Shaldon. Both came to discuss what they were doing and what the government is doing to achieve this important objective – lots of philosophising and sharing of ideas!
And of course the week would not have been complete without Fireworks –for me at Dawlish Warren –it was quite a spectacle!
Surgeries and Getting Together
My next surgeries will be on Saturday 13th November, first at the Courtenay Centre in Newton Abbot and then at the Manor House in Dawlish at 12.15. My next surgery in Kingsteignton at the Community Centre will be at 10am on Saturday 20 November. Please phone 01626 368277 for an appointment or for immediate help with issues that can’t wait until the next surgery. My next pub meeting will be on 19 November at 6.30pm at the Smugglers in Holcombe –I should love to see you there!