Comment: No big Queen’s Speech shocks for business

Martin Flanagan
Martin Flanagan
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THERE was enough in the Queen’s Speech yesterday, outlining the government’s legislative programme over the next five years, to please the business community.

There will be a particular welcome from small businesses for the new ­Enterprise Bill, giving additional ­support to SMEs to settle late payment disputes.

Major companies delaying payments to small suppliers for unconscionable periods when SMEs’ cashflows are frequently tight has been a justifiable bugbear of the sector for a long time.

To have the Enterprise Bill, with the introduction of a Small Business Conciliation Service, in the Queen’s Speech will give David Cameron credibility with small businesses on the issue.

But the litmus test of its effectiveness down the line will be if there is a meaningful reduction in the number of small and medium-sized businesses that have to fold due to severe cashflow problems.

Business will also have a knee-jerk positive reaction to the curbing of union powers. In recent times the strikes that have most damaged society have not been those of private workforces, but public services such as transport and the fire service. But when public services are withdrawn all businesses suffer as workforces are stranded and productivity is hit.

Likewise, organisations like the CBI and British Chambers of Commerce will have no trouble with an Immigration Bill creating a new offence of illegal working – it is legal working by foreigners that the business lobby wants to fight tooth and nail for.

The fact that the Conservatives are pressing ahead with the in-out EU referendum by the end of 2017 is no surprise, and business will just want it to be held sooner rather than later to remove uncertainty that is the enemy of investment decisions.

Even so, it remains very much in the balance whether the Prime Minister can get enough concessions from the other European Union members to allow him to campaign for a British vote to stay in.

More positively, business will broadly support the idea of further devolution of decision-making powers, whether it is to the nations or within the nations of the UK. Business will also welcome capping welfare in order to fund apprenticeships.