Unleash small businesses to get growth going

“Aiming for growth” is not just a political phrase, but a vital conservative economic strategy, and this fundamental philosophy cannot be lost in the fray of everyday politics. Over the past few months, tough decisions have been made to stabilize our economic trajectory and reassure the markets, but it is imperative that the Conservatives remember who we are and what we represent in the process.

We are proud to be the party of entrepreneurship and free markets, but we must also be the party that explains why these things are so important in everyday life. Economic growth means more jobs and money for families, increased tax revenue to pay for improved public services, and greater financial security for all of us. Too often, however, when talking about growth, the spotlight is on macroeconomic issues. This big picture overlooks the importance of local small businesses to the overall picture. We need to focus on how growing small and medium enterprises can benefit both our local and national economies and ask ourselves what more we can do to support start-ups and grow existing businesses. They are our future.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of local communities, but this is not always recognized. From convenience stores and pubs to family run engineering businesses and large multi-site companies with bases across the UK and beyond, they can vary in size and sectors, but all have one thing in common: the ability to grow. And in doing so, create jobs, boost local economies and our national finances.

We are rightly proud to be one of the best countries in the world to start a business. I know this because I did it myself. Before entering Parliament, I had the good fortune of running a small family business. It’s hard work but also rewarding because it relies on close working relationships with colleagues and clients. You need this philosophy to be successful. That’s why so many small business owners are as proud of what they do as they are of the teams they employ.

Too often, however, we see small businesses and their owners portrayed by left-wing activists as a necessary evil. Instead, conservatives should celebrate them and defend their centrality to growth. We should encourage those with ideas to take the plunge and settle down and support those who want to grow. In this way, today’s small businesses can become tomorrow’s big businesses.

As a party, we have consistently created a business-friendly environment, allowing entrepreneurs to flourish. We can’t go back now. In the post-Brexit world, only a conservative government can create the space for businesses to adapt and innovate within a simple and logical regulatory framework. And like many, I’m eager to see the removal of heavy bureaucracy.

Small business owners worry about VAT. Despite rising costs, the VAT threshold has not increased to reflect this. Like personal tax thresholds, more and more small businesses are being drawn into the VAT system. This not only adds direct costs, but also an administrative cost. Many companies work with very small margins, so even a small increase in costs makes it more difficult for them to survive. And that’s before the higher energy bills they face. For small businesses to continue to be successful across the UK, we need to make sure all the right incentives are in place to promote growth and success.

As Northern Ireland Secretary, I have seen innovative companies, working alongside university research departments, create game-changing opportunities in artificial intelligence, engineering, medical technology and of quantum computing. In my own constituency of Great Yarmouth, there are many companies run by local people who are also global players, leading the way in the oil, gas and renewable energy sectors. Some of the biggest names in home building and construction, from JCB to Berkeley Homes, started out as sole traders or small businesses. They are now international success stories that employ thousands of people.

They will achieve even more if a Conservative government goes further to free them from the shackles of unnecessary regulation and reward investment by supporting those who take risks by investing in and growing small businesses. That would be a positive use of our tax system, to stimulate growth and job creation. We have limited time between now and the budget, as our economy stabilizes, to see what more we can do.

Economic growth is not just a lofty ambition for academic debate. It must be a reality, driven by day-to-day decisions by government to support small businesses. We need to create better conditions for entrepreneurs to flourish and continue to be the foundation for a better, brighter and more sustainable economic future for us all. It’s more important than ever.

Brandon Lewis is a former secretary of Northern Ireland