PM speech at Business Connect: 18 March 2024

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak makes a speech at the Business Connect conference

The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP

I’m incredibly proud that we have five and a half million small businesses in this country.

And your contribution is enormous – in jobs, growth, innovation.

But this isn’t just a number.

It’s five and a half million stories of sacrifice, hard work, and hope…

…that by taking a risk to build your own business…

…you can build a better future for yourself and your family.

Stories like those of Roni Savage, who I just met earlier this morning.

…and runs the engineering firm Jomas Associates.

Or Bradbury’s Cheese in Buxton, 140 years old this year and still as committed and knowledgeable as ever.

Now, I grew up in a small business.

When I wasn’t at school, I’d work in Mum’s pharmacy…

…serving customers, doing the bookkeeping, cleaning the shop.

Our pharmacy shaped my beliefs about the economy.

That pharmacy was ours; we owned it; we had a stake in its success.

If we worked hard and took pride in our work and provided a good service, business would improve.

If we didn’t, it wouldn’t.

And that’s how it should be – that’s the promise of entrepreneurship.

Now I know that promise has come under strain. 

Covid, war in Ukraine, inflation, all caused major disruption, and drove up the cost of doing business.

I know things are still tough, but our plan is starting to work.

Inflation – more than halved and falling fast.

Growth – higher than anyone expected.

Debt – on track to fall.

But there’s more we need to do to restore that promise of entrepreneurship.

So, let me share three big steps we’re taking to help small business.

First, we’re cutting your taxes.

Your money is far better spent by you, than by government.

So we’ve increased the VAT threshold to £90,000, for the first time since 2017.

Taken a third out of paying any business rates whatsoever.

And introduced a relief for retail, hospitality, and leisure businesses. 

…that means a small business in England will pay far less in business rates…

…than you would in Wales or in Scotland.

And we’re cutting National Insurance.

Because we want to end the unfairness that you pay in tax twice, 

On income from work, but income from other sources is only taxed once.

That’s why our long-term ambition is to simplify the system…

…and end the double tax on work, by abolishing NICs. 

Now, we’ve already made good progress. For the self employed we’ve abolished class 2 NICS.

…and cut your main rate by a third, saving a typical self-employed person £650 a year.

And we’ve cut NICs for 29 million workers by around £900.

That’s a £20bn tax cut for the British people.

But we’re not done yet.

We’ll make more progress towards abolition, in the next Parliament.

Our second step to help small business is to cut red tape.

Since leaving the EU, we’ve revoked or reformed more than 2,000 EU laws…

…with 500 more coming this year…

…delivering more than £1bn of savings for businesses and customers.

Today, I can go further.

We’re announcing a new simplification package…

…expected to save small businesses around £150m a year. 

Take the rules that define who can qualify as a small business.

It really matters, because if you don’t qualify…

…you’re suddenly hit with a whole load of extra paperwork.

But now we get to decide these definitions – not the EU. 

So we’re changing the rules to ensure that far fewer businesses are hit by these burdens.

We’re also tackling late payments…

…with strict new rules that mean any company bidding for large government contracts…

…must show that they pay their own invoices within 45 days.

And we’re also making it easier for you to hire apprentices.

… apprenticeships benefit young people and the businesses who hire them.

But for SMEs, the system can be expensive and confusing, despite huge progress.

So, to ensure funding is available where there is demand for apprenticeships…

…we’re increasing the apprenticeships budget by £40m.

And for small businesses hiring young apprentices…

…we will now fund the cost of their training in full.

This will cut costs for business and training providers.

And support thousands more young people to start an apprenticeship.

As well as cutting taxes and red tape, our third step is to make it easier to get the finance you need…

…to start, grow, or invest in your business.

For early-stage businesses, we’ve already made the tax reliefs on investment, far more generous.

And we’ve deployed hundreds of millions to the Regional Angels programme…

For larger companies, we’ve committed £1.6bn into Growth Funds in every region of the country…

…including £400m right here in the Midlands…

…as well as the £1bn Start Up Loans scheme, which has helped over 100,000 businesses…

…like Castore, started by two brothers in their parents’ kitchen on the Wirral…

…and now a multimillion-pound sportswear company.

This is all about the government directly funding exciting, high growth businesses right across the country.

And I genuinely believe it’s one of the most generous sets of schemes anywhere in the world.

So get on Gov.UK and see if you can benefit.

But, I recognise there’s been a gap.

Female founders receive just 2% of UK equity investment.

That figure hasn’t budged in a decade.

So to change that, we’re announcing a new Invest in Women Taskforce.

Led by Hannah Bernard from Barclays…

…and serial entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow…

…it’s going to raise a female-focused investment fund to address that gap directly.

We’re going to make the UK the best place in the world to be a female founder.

So, lower taxes; less admin; better access to finance…

…that’s how we’re backing our small businesses.

Because in the end, the economy is not some abstract thing.

It’s about you – the five and a half million risk takers, growth makers, job creators.

Our role is to create the conditions for you to thrive.

To make sure that hard work and aspiration is rewarded.

And to restore that promise of entrepreneurship.

We’re not there yet.

But we’re absolutely moving in the right direction.

So let’s stick to the plan – and build a better, brighter future together.

Thank you.

From: Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street and The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP