Where would we be without our small businesses and self-employed sole traders? They are not, of course, the same thing. There are 5.4 million businesses in the UK, 99% of them employing 0-249 people. 5.1 million of them are micro businesses employing fewer than 9 people (and totalling 15.6 million people, or 60% of all those employed.). A further 4.8 million people are self-employed (or 15% of all workers in the UK).
Our lives are wholly dependent on them. Without favouritism, here are a few examples from my own life. Local pubs are an essential heart to our rural communities. Tradesmen can repair any electrical machinery, extending their lives and reducing landfill. Small garages have saved me from many an automobile catastrophe; builders, electricians and plumbers would be hard to come by were it not for self-employment or micro businesses. Village shops like the excellent one who supplies my Gazette and Herald very often including the Post Office are a lifeline for many of our communities. Farriers; country stores; farm shops. These and so many more are absolutely essential parts of life in general, perhaps especially in a rural area like this.
Not one of them, of course, (with the possible exception of some financial services people and similar consultants) export to the EU, or anywhere else for that matter. Yet all are subject to every rule, regulation, bureaucracy, health and safety and general irritation which can be thought up both by National and local government, and especially by the EU. I was talking to a restaurant manager the other day locally. She said that two thirds of her time is now taken up with rules and regulations, HR stuff, health and safety, tax and trading returns, VAT and the rest of it. She’s a chef, but says she spends hardly any time in the kitchen anymore because of it.
So I hope that we will make good use of the Brexit negotiations to sweep away swathes of regulations and bureaucracy coming from the EU. That should, I hope, be fairly easy. But let’s also use the opportunity to free up businesses, large and small alike. Let’s relieve self-employed people of these burdens wherever they may originate. Schools should be places where people teach, restaurants where they serve delicious meals; farms, where they grow produce, factories where they make things. Let us free up our people to get on with the things they are good at. And let us accept that that may increase some risks, land greater responsibility on the shoulders of our people, and probably threaten a few civil service jobs. There are risks associated with it. But let’s campaign and fight to extend the freedom we will achieve through Brexit to freedom for our people across the board.