Countdown to Brexit: Michael Watkinson, Development Manager for Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire at the FSB

With the countdown to Brexit quickly ticking away, Business Link Magazine invites a select number of the region’s business leaders to offer their thoughts.

Here we talk with Michael Watkinson, Development Manager for Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

March 29th is slowly inching towards us – the day the United Kingdom leaves the European Union after 45 years of common market membership.

Small business owners have been crying out for some certainty surrounding the Brexit debate and for Government to concentrate on the other challenges they face.

With the new year under way, politicians must re-focus on the domestic issues impacting small firms. Every MP should be aware of concerns about the massive changes that await them in April, with the rollout of online tax reporting and higher employment costs.

Nevertheless, with the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement still in no man’s land, FSB and our members have some key asks about what happens when Britain says goodbye to Brussels.

A chaotic no deal will damage jobs, cut growth and hurt the economy. Small businesses cannot afford extra costs from new tariffs and supply chains risk being broken due to new ports regulations.

This scenario is particularly worrying for our members who will not have the same resource or capacity to make large-scale contingency plans as big global companies. With time ticking on, small firms need support and advice to start planning. The Government can help by issuing Brexit advice vouchers or considering other forms of financial and non-financial support that small firms can use to help prepare.

Once a transition agreement is confirmed, the Government must then negotiate a comprehensive partnership with the EU to secure the easiest and least costly access to the single market and those countries we already trade with.

Changes to the UK immigration system must not be over-complicated and place a stranglehold on the growth and expansion of small business. We have already raised concerns over the White Paper revealed just before Christmas on immigration. The proposed £30,000 salary threshold could lock out key workers, and the extra administration and cost of the system also being an additional burden.

Brexit could be a good opportunity to re-think the skills challenges facing small businesses – including access to skills, training and apprenticeships. But progress on this will take many years and there’s just 12 weeks to go until we’re due to leave the EU.

The Government must get our future relations with the European Union right, along with the other issues facing hardworking entrepreneurs such as increased bureaucracy.

With over 5 million small businesses operating in the UK they are the backbone of British economic power and no decision-maker should forget this – the FSB certainly won’t.