Yesterday in the House of Commons a debate took place followed by a vote on the theme of supporting small businesses. It was clear that the votes were not sufficient to adopt the call by the Labour Party to support small businesses. The only Sussex MP that took part in the debate was Huw Merriman and amongst other comments he made the following statement which would seem to be a very useful comment and perhaps he will be willing to persuade his colleagues in Sussex in the Conservative Party to sit down with the Chamber of Commerce and try to improve matters for our businesses. Here is some of his words.
I represent a constituency in Sussex that is absolutely reliant in employment terms on small businesses in leisure, tourism and retail. The constituency I represent has businesses that were among the 750,000 that were given a business rate holiday. Furlough is not just keeping the employees going but making sure that they are returning back to the businesses. Some 15,300 workers in my constituency, about a third, were reliant on furlough to keep them going. When I went round to visit those businesses last summer—it had been very difficult for us to meet, but the changes in the summer allowed us to do that—they were absolutely of the view that had it not been for the Government’s support, their businesses would have shut down and their employees would have been made redundant. Everything that I am about to say has to be put in the context of the fact that this Government have absolutely supported business. I absolutely refute the point that the Conservative party is no longer the party of business; it absolutely is and it will always have the champions of business on these Benches.
In the six years since I have been a Member of this place, I have always championed the need to reform business rates. If we look across the G7, we see that the UK has the largest property taxes. They are a tax on jobs and a tax on business, and I would like to see them reformed. Over those years, we have had a number of reviews, and we are waiting on one at the moment. I would dearly like to see business rates replaced. The CBI is right when it says that business rates are a tax on business and jobs and lead to uncertainty.
So what is not very clear is what was the nature of the vote. All but two of the Sussex Conservative MPs voted against it and both of the Labour MPs voted in favour of it. The votes were not sufficient at 215 vs 298 so fractionally less than 80% of the voters that took part. The three Sussex MPs that did not vote were Caroline Lucas, Andrew Griffith and Nick Gibb. So the Sussex votes represented about 80% of the total as well. Perhaps we will find out in the near future what the vote was calling for. However just as importantly perhaps some of the Sussex MPs could begin to listen to Huw Merriman and engage with the Sussex businesses.