Small Businesses Blake-Turner Solicitors

Queen’s Speech 2022: What small businesses need to know

In the annual state opening of Parliament, Prince Charles has outlined the UK government’s legislative agenda for the coming year. The Prince of Wales delivered the speech because, for the first time since 1963, the Queen did not attend. Buckingham Palace said her absence was due to “episodic mobility problems”.

Opening the speech written for him by ministers, Prince Charles said:

“My government’s priority is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families. My government will level up opportunity in all parts of the country and support more people into work.”

A total of 38 parliamentary Bills were announced. Here are the plans of interest to small businesses.

Local growth, high streets and ‘levelling up’

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

The new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will make law the government’s much trumpted ‘levelling up’ plans which aim to reduce the inequalities between different areas of the UK.

As Enterprise Nation previously reported, the Bill gives local councils in England new powers to force landlords to rent out shops that have been empty for at least a year by using compulsory rental auctions. The government says this “rejuvenate high streets and restores pride in local areas”.

In a policy paper outlining the Bill, the government said there will be a two-month notice period during which landlords can evidence a signed lease, and if none is presented, the local authority will be able to serve a final rental auction notice, triggering a two-month auction period for bidders to come forward.”

The change has been questioned for not properly tackling the problem of filling empty units due to the high cost of business rates.

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, said:

“Every day an average of 50 shops close on the UK’s high streets. That’s a devastating blow that leaves a scar in its wake – which only adds to the problem of diminishing footfall in traditional bricks and mortar retail.

“At the other end of the scale, we are seeing increasing numbers of small businesses being started in the UK and with that a growing appetite amongst online-only retailers to test their product in a short-term physical space.

“While forcing landlords to accept bids might turn out to be very difficult to pull off because of the entrenched business rates issue – it’s a step in the right direction. What needs to happen now is to ensure local authorities understand the opportunity to embrace change – and help them to provide the support these small independent firms will need to make this work.”

The Bill will also:

  • make permanent the relaxing of pavement licensing rules that were introduced during the pandemic to make it easier for restaurants, pubs and bars to serve customers outside.
  • make it a legal duty for the government to report annually on its targets for reducing the inequalities between areas across the UK.

Public sector procurement

Procurement Bill

A new Procurement Bill promises to make it easier for small businesses to win public sector contracts.

The government says it will do this by “reforming the UK’s public procurement regime to create a simpler and more transparent system that better meets the country’s needs, rather than being based on transposed EU directives”.

There are currently more than 350 regulations governing public procurement which can put confused small businesses off from pitching for a contract. In a factsheet, the government said:

“Removing these and creating more sensible rules will not only reduce costs for businesses and the public sector, but also drive innovation by allowing buyers to tailor procurement to their exact needs, building in new stages such as demonstrations and testing prototypes.”

The Procurement Bill will:

  • introduce a single registration platform so suppliers to the public sector only have to submit their details once.
  • introduce a single central transparency platform to allows suppliers to see all procurement opportunities in one place.
  • as well as value for money, buyers will be required to take account of priorities such as job creation potential, improving supplier resilience and tackling climate change.
  • allow buyers to reserve competitions for contracts below a certain threshold for UK suppliers, SMEs and social enterprises.
  • put in place a new exclusions framework to “make it easier to exclude suppliers who have underperformed on other contracts”. In its response to a consultation last year, the government said this would include banning suppliers from winning public contracts if they deliver poor value or break the law such as a lax approach to safety or environmental concerns.
  • create a new “debarment register’”, accessible to all public sector organisations, which will list companies that should be excluded from winning contracts.

The Bill will apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, said:

“The government spends £300bn a year on procurement and we would be delighted to see more of this spend go to small businesses.

“This can happen through taking out the friction of some of the application processes, reviewing the merits of the Social Value Act which can favour larger businesses with deeper pockets, and encouraging more small firms to sell to government via the major suppliers.

“Developments such as Contractsfinder have been warmly welcomed by the small business community and taking further steps such as a single sign-on application will ensure that more small business owners have the time to look for relevant opportunities and apply for them with greater ease.”

Brexit and international trade

Brexit Freedoms Bill

The Brexit Freedoms Bill will allow the government to overhaul EU laws that are still in force in the UK.

New powers will ensure “EU law can be amended, repealed or replaced with legislation which better suits the UK, without this taking decades of parliamentary time to achieve”.

The government says the change will cut “£1 billion of burdensome EU red tape for businesses” and create “a regulatory environment that encourages prosperity, innovation [and] entrepreneurship”.

Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill

The Queen’s Speech also includes measures on international trade post-Brexit. The Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill will make changes to the UK’s domestic procurement regulations so businesses can benefit from free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

The government said: “the UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand Free Trade Agreements will benefit all parts of the UK, delivering economic opportunities across a range of sectors and businesses including for financial services in Scotland, distillers in Northern Ireland, aerospace manufacturers in the West Midlands, fintech in Wales and carmakers in the North East”.

Business rates

Non-Domestic Rating Bill

Reform of business rates has long been demanded. In the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, which applies to England and Wales, the government says it “review and create a fairer, more accurate business rates system, meaning businesses will have the confidence they are paying the right tax”.

The reforms include:

  • shortening the business rates revaluation cycle from five to three years from 2023.
  • creating a power for the Valuation Office Agency to provide ratepayers with information on the calculation of their rateable value.
  • incentivise business ratepayers to invest in their properties and decarbonise with new government reliefs.

Digital and media

Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill

The draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill will “boost competition by introducing a new regime to address the far-reaching market power of a small number of very powerful tech firms”. It would give statutory powers to the new Digital Markets Unit to enforce competitions rules on companies such as Google and Facebook.

The changes include requiring technology firms to warn smaller businesses about changes to their algorithms which impact on website traffic and business revenue.

The Bill will also update consumer law to tackle the problem of fake online product reviews. The Queen’s Speech briefing notes quotes 2015 research which estimated £23bn of purchases a year are influenced by online reviews, estimates showing that up to 50% of reviews on popular e-commerce websites are not genuine and that fake reviews make consumers more than twice as likely to choose poor-quality products.

Data Reform Bill

The Data Reform Bill will replace EU regulations on data protection. The government says it will “increase the competitiveness and efficiencies of UK businesses by reducing the burdens they face, for example by creating a data protection framework that is focused on privacy outcomes rather than box-ticking”. It claims the changes will create over £1bn in business savings over 10 years.

Electronic Trade Documents Bill

The Electronic Trade Documents Bill will put electronic trade documents on the same legal footing as paper documents which the government says “removes the need for wasteful paperwork and needless bureaucracy”, while enabling “businesses to move from paper-based to digital-based transactions when buying and selling internationally”.

This will update long-standing statutes such as the Bills of Exchange Act 1882 and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992.

An estimated 28.5 billion paper trade documents are currently used each year. The Digital Container Shipping Association estimates that if 50% of the container shipping industry were to adopt electronic bills of lading, the collective global savings would be round £3bn. According to CargoX, transferring a paper-based trade document can take seven to 19 days, whereas processing the document electronically reduces this to as short as 20 seconds.

Economic crime and cyber security

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will “tackle economic crime, including fraud and money-laundering, by delivering greater protections for consumers and businesses, boosting the UK’s defences, and allowing legitimate businesses to thrive”.

Among the measures are:

  • broadening the powers of Companies House so it becomes a “more active gatekeeper over company creation and custodian of more reliable data, including new powers to check, remove or decline information submitted to, or already on, the company register”.
  • introducing identity verification for people who manage, own and control companies and other UK registered entities to “improve the accuracy of Companies House data”.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill aims to “improve cyber resilience and digital connectivity for individuals and businesses”.

The original article was published on Enterprise Nation.