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Taxes on Small Businesses — [Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 18th October 2017.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 2:30 pm, 18th October 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the effect of taxes on small businesses.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue, which affects small businesses in west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, in the constituency of St Ives.

Some 87% of business enterprises in my west Cornwall constituency are classed as microbusinesses, meaning that they employ fewer than 10 people. In fact, 99% of all businesses in my constituency are small and medium-sized enterprises, employing fewer than 250 workers. Those small, locally run businesses provide the lion’s share of jobs and are the drivers of our local economy. If that is true in St Ives, it will be true elsewhere in the country, which is why understanding how the tax system helps or hinders small business is so important and why I am pleased to raise the issue today. It is also why I have dedicated a considerable amount of time since being elected in 2015 to meeting small businesses and understanding the issues facing them. In fact, I had a small business of my own until my election in 2015.

I know that this Conservative Government recognise the considerable contribution of small businesses, and I acknowledge and appreciate the work that has been done to address the tax burden and support small employers. Many of the 3 million jobs created since 2010 are within small businesses, which is, in part, a credit to Government policy. I recognise that there is no shortage of priorities for the Government and that navigating our way out of the EU will be time-consuming, to say the least. Despite that and—dare I say it—because of it, if there was ever a time to radically address the way businesses are taxed, it is now. While reform will be a challenge, it will undoubtedly yield benefits for our economy by improving productivity, driving wage growth, boosting full-time employment and spreading wealth across all corners of Great Britain, which is a particular concern and interest of people in the far west of Cornwall.

Time does not permit us to consider every aspect of business taxation, and I am not gifted with the brain that is needed fully to understand the complexities of the issue. However, I wish to cover three tax-related issues that stand out to me as clear opportunities for the Government to remove barriers for small business and demonstrate an understanding and recognition of the life of a small business owner.

The first issue is the VAT threshold. Small business owners in coastal communities such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly choose to curtail their business to duck under the VAT threshold of £85,000. That is not necessarily about tax avoidance, but more a desire to avoid another level of administration. One business owner on Scilly contacted me because the gallery she runs is set to cross the VAT threshold. She will then have to raise prices by 20% to break even. Since only one of the gallery’s 30 artists is VAT-registered, being able to claim back VAT would not compensate for that change. The gallery must either take the leap and accept that burden or close for the rest of the season.

The effect of the stifling VAT threshold in my constituency is reduced activity during shoulder and winter months, reduced employment opportunities, reduced Government tax income, depressed town centre activity and greater pressure on the hospitality sector during peak season. A guest house owner wanting to avoid registering for VAT may also choose to close early, reducing the availability of beds for visitors and removing altogether the potential spend of the visitor within the wider community.

I raise that issue now because leaving the EU presents an opportunity for the Treasury to consider raising the threshold to, for the sake of argument, £120,000. The Isles of Scilly would be a great place to look at if the Treasury wanted to assess the possible impacts and implications of such a change. The Government may find that it is a cost-neutral proposal.

Another benefit of that proposal is the potential to create greater job opportunities and encourage fresh blood into the tourism sector. That is particularly relevant in Cornwall, Scilly and other rural areas across the UK that struggle to retain young people. I am not suggesting that the proposal would address the skills gap entirely in remote and rural areas, but it would be a step in the right direction.

I assure the Minister and everyone here today that the need to address the VAT threshold in coastal communities is regularly brought to my attention by business owners. I am interested to hear if the Minister is minded to consider such a proposal and possibly a pilot in the constituency of St Ives.