Express & Star comment: Time to rally behind small business
Napoleon once described Britain as a nation of shopkeepers. And in the 21st century, it seems we are a nation of small business owners.
There are estimated to be 2.7 million small- and medium-sized companies in the UK, accounting for 99 per cent of all businesses and more than half of all turnover.
It is therefore with great concern that we today report a significant slowdown in the number of new business start-ups. It appears the problem is particularly acute in the West Midlands, with the number of new start-ups falling by 16.1 per compared to the previous year.
The figures should be tempered with a degree of caution. They follow rapid growth in the number of new businesses between 2011 and 2016, and it was perhaps inevitable the trend would tail off eventually.
On the other hand, the Enterprise Research Centre believes the lack of certainty surrounding Brexit has also played a role. The centre believes a lack of clarity about Britain's future direction encourages would-be entrepreneurs to play safe, sticking with secure and stable employment until they know more about what will happen.
Hopefully this will focus the minds of politicians who think the best way to deal with the Brexit impasse is to kick the can a little further down the road by seeking another delay. After more than three-and-a-half years of indecision, the time has come for action.
There are also fears that small businesses are seeing their growth constrained by a lack of transport and affordable housing for workers, particularly outside the well-connected big cities.
With less than four weeks to go until we are due to leave the EU, it is time for politicians to put personal ideology and party advantage to one side, and work together for the good of the nation.
And once Brexit has been resolved, our Government – whatever colour it may be – needs to focus on how it is will make Britain an attractive place to start a business.
Today's cottage industries are the commercial powerhouses of tomorrow, or at least they could be if given a fair wind.
It is time to give our entrepreneurs the support they need.