There are some 29,000 registered businesses in Bucks. Most are small enterprises: roughly three-quarters employ fewer than five people and nearly 88 % fewer than ten. Buckinghamshire has a higher proportion of very small firms than any other county in England.
Last weekend, Small Business Saturday meant a particular focus in the media on small shops. Retail businesses are indeed a hugely important part of the small business sector in our county. While I, like most of us, use the supermarkets, I get most of my fresh food from small shops and market stalls.
But the small business sector is a lot more than high street shops. One of the heartening things about the Buckinghamshire economy is the variety and dynamism of the sector here. We are strong in life sciences and in professional and business services – key areas for future growth and exports. The rate of patent applications from businesses in Bucks is one of the highest in the country.
My own contact with local business comes partly through organisations like the local Federation of Small Businesses, Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce and Bucks Business First, and partly from casework. Businesses, like individual constituents, email me about their problems.
It’s in all our interests to see new businesses created and for those that already exist to make more money and hire additional staff. Success doesn’t come from government but from business leaders having good products and services and selling them to customers both in Britain and overseas. But there are things governments do that can make life easier or tougher for small business.
In most of my meetings, the biggest complaint from business is about the cost of regulation. A BP or an HSBC can employ a whole department of people to keep up to date on the latest rules and see them implemented. Small businesses don’t have that luxury. Work on regulations eats up staff time that ought to be spent on improving products or marketing to customers.
So cutting back on regulations must be a priority. We’ve now got a rule in government that if a minister wants to introduce a new regulation, he must repeal two others . And we’re making progress, in alliance with Germany and others, to lighten EU regulations too.
Second, as we start to afford tax cuts, we should target them at business, especially in ways that will make it cheaper to hire new workers. Last week’s announcement scrapping employer’s NICs for workers under 21 is a welcome step. So is limiting business rates to a 2% increase.
Third, we need high-speed broadband in rural as well as urban areas. The work by Bucks County Council and Bucks Business First will help bring coverage to areas like Stokenchurch, Hughenden and Lacey Green.
Fourth, although average educational achievements are higher in Bucks than almost anywhere else in England, we cannot be complacent. High expectations and standards in schools, more apprenticeships and better technical education, including through the new University Technical Colleges are all important.
Fifth, governments can help small firms venture into new markets by including small firms in trade missions and other export support work. Over a fifth of small businesses do business abroad. More could do so.
A thriving small business sector means more jobs and greater prosperity for us all.