Small firms call for support as GDP figures show lack of pre-Plan B momentum

Responding to new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showing that the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by only 0.1% in October, and its trade deficit widened to £5.2 billion in the three months to October, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chair Mike Cherry said:  

“The economy was struggling to get into gear even before Plan B measures for England were announced. Plan B restrictions will add to existing consumer concerns about the spread of omicron, further dampening an already suppressed appetite for festive celebrations and trips out.

“We’re hearing from members across the hospitality space who went to bed on Wednesday with relatively healthy order books and woke up on Thursday to a fresh flurry of cancellations.

“The Government should look again at support measures for firms hardest hit by Covid-linked disruption. With cases rising, the Covid Statutory Sick Pay rebate should be reintroduced, allowing small firms to reclaim the support they provide to staff who need to isolate.

“The 66% business rates discount for retail and hospitality firms is vital but – as omicron anxiety increasingly hurts demand – it should now be upped to 100%. As costs surge and recruitment continues to prove challenging for many, the Employment Allowance should also rise, to £5,000.  

“We have thousands of firms within supply chains still waiting on £1.5 billion from the business rates relief fund, unveiled months ago. That cash needs to be distributed without further delay.

“After the chaos of the pingdemic, a lot of firms will welcome the new Daily Contact Testing policy for the vaccinated. The next step is to relaunch the workplace testing initiative. If a contact is alerted whilst on shift, they should be able to test there and then, in the workplace, to provide immediate peace of mind.   

“Amid a rise in abuse towards shopworkers, small firms urgently need reassurance from government about how it intends to manage adherence to Plan B rules. Small businesses – still cash strapped, beset by surging prices and trying to navigate yet another unconventional seasonal period – simply don’t have the capacity to be enforcement officers.

“As we hurtle towards the introduction of import checks in January, our trade position continues to worsen. Only one in four small business owners who know they will be impacted by those new admin demands are prepared for them. With paperwork requirements changing so swiftly, and new global opportunities opening-up, we’re calling on policymakers to reform and relaunch the SME Brexit Support fund with an international focus.    

“Once we’re beyond January, we’ll be into April’s national insurance hike, living wage increase and business rates bills. This pandemic has shown us the importance of acting early – the Government should move with targeted support now to shore-up business confidence, which fell in every quarter this year in the run-up to the execution of Plan B, to avoid a further deterioration.”