Colin Borland: Small businesses need financial support to deal with the pressures of Brexit

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Can anybody recall with refreshing originality all those presentations of five-year strategic plans in 2015, all called ‘Our 2020 Vision’?

Have they not aged well?

They make the 1960s episodes of Tomorrow’s World, which looked forward to putting us on the road with lots of free time with our robot butlers and digital workplaces, look like Nostradamus’s works.

So, I don’t think it’s wise to keep you up with my predictions for the coming year in light of recent developments.

Instead, let’s take a look at the stuff that we know would probably happen – the major things that are labelled “URGENT.” at the top of the 2021 entry tablet.

First of all, as much as we were glad that the transition phase of the European Union did not end without an agreement last week, focus now shifts to what the new partnership would actually look like. All the pages in the world of painstakingly negotiated, tightly worded legal documents do not tell us how it will really work in reality.

It is good news, of course, that between here and the EU there will be no tariffs or limits on commodities. But because compliance with EU rules of origin is the quid pro quo, it is likely that further paperwork and controls will take place.

We know that the burden of regulatory, non-tariff barriers of this type falls most heavily on smaller companies’ shoulders. That is why we have been working to ensure that small businesses obtain financial support to invest in the technology, training and technical advice they need to manage the modern trading relationship with our largest overseas market.

Right now, this is extremely important because the Covid crisis has left small businesses with little room for more shocks.

Speaking of which, just when we thought vaccines had the coronavirus under control, new, even more virulent strains were retaliating. That implies, I hardly need to remind you, that this latest round brings with it even tougher constraints that will place even more pressure on many more hard-pressed small business owners, their workers and families.

The rest of January will be crucial as companies have had a very tough start to the year. It is also important that financial aid arrives as soon as possible for those forced to close or whose markets have crashed.

However, we need to think about how to restore the economy beyond the immediate rescue and stabilization of the economy – so we should do more than just get back to where we were this time last year. Our pre-Covid economy was far from ideal, and now is the time to set out the realistic steps the next Parliament will take to create the kind of local economy and communities we deserve, with the Holyrood elections in May.

To this end, in our 2021 manifesto, From Recovery to Prosperity, we at FSB have already laid out a range of proposals.

These involve developing contracts for all the work required to satisfy our commitments to climate change (e.g. making buildings more energy efficient) so that small and micro contractors can successfully bid.

We also illustrate how, with the implementation of “bread funds” that offer a mutual insurance solution to items such as sick pay, self-employed employees may be handled more equally.

And we are calling for the use of the Scottish National Investment Bank to invest in the reuse of long-term empty high street units, among a variety of plans to revitalize local areas.

Of course, there’s a lot more. But fundamentally, nationally and locally, it’s about broadening and improving our economic base. Of course, it won’t make us resistant to external shocks, but it means we’ll be better prepared, whatever it might be, for the next shock.

Colin Borland is the director of the Small Business Federation of Decentralized Nations.

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