NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 28th May 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Do you run or work in a small company? Does the government really understand how business works? This is a question being asked by hundreds of small firms in Nottingham as we near one of the most significant regulatory changes that could add time, effort and cost to doing business.
At the end of last year the government published ‘Making Tax Digital’, signalling its intention to i
mplement digital tax accounting by 2020. I am particularly worried about the impact of this transition on the self-employed and small businesses, 3 out 5 of whom keep records on paper or without sophisticated software.
A greater concern than digitisation is the other big change proposed: a requirement for businesses to “update HMRC at least quarterly via their digital tax account”. Such a banal phrase has the potential to be something of a Pandora’s Box, and raises many questions that HMRC will have to answer: what is an “update”? How often exactly will businesses be expected to report? Is the government stealthily trying to move towards a pay-as-you-earn system for small business corporation tax? And then there are significant questions around accounting costs – will firms have to hire accountants quarterly?
Small firms have enough to contend with on a daily basis, and juggling the requirements to record their transactions and outgoings is hard enough without HMRC adding to the hassle. Unless there are clear gains for businesses and not just for HMRC there will be a further erosion of trust and confidence from entrepreneurs in the willingness of the government to listen.
I voice my concerns about the potential impact of this change in an article for the Guardian Small Business Network, which you can read here:
- You might not know it, but there’s an important firm in Nottingham East helping make sure that the food we all buy from many of the big name supermarkets is tested for quality and safety. On Friday I visited 2 Sisters Food Group’s technical services site at BioCity in Nottingham. The firm carry out 15,000 food safety tests a week on products manufactured for major UK supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer. I had a look around their microbiology laboratory (pictured), and it was really interesting to see how they operate. I was also impressed with the company’s ethical stance and commitment to environmental and ethical standards with their products and employees. I’m grateful to Alan and his team for taking the time to show me around.
- Here’s a great Nottingham success story; last week I attended the listing of local company Oncimmune EarlyCDT on the AIM London Stock Exchange. They are a leading early cancer detection company, who have developed technologies that have the potential to allow cancer detection up to four years earlier than traditional methods. I am delighted that this combination of local ingenuity and enterprise are at the frontier of the fight against cancer. This AIM listing is a big deal for the team involved, and crucially unlocks the finance needed to make this a world-leading health technology. The partnership between those who work in our city hospital and the University of Nottingham have much to be proud of.
- On Friday I met with Nikki Stevenson of the Nottinghamshire branch of the National Autistic Society. It was really fascinating to find out about the work they do supporting autistic people in the city. They are currently looking for volunteers to assist with a range of duties, so if you have a few hours to spare and have good IT skills, please get in touch with Nikki by emailing Nottinghamshire@nas.org.uk. You can find further information on their Facebook page here. Full training will be provided to all new volunteers.
- The ‘Trust Building Project’ launched this week in Nottingham, supported by the police, the city council and the Crown Prosecution Service. The project, led by local Imam Dr Musharraf Hussain, aims to create a group of ‘ambassadors’ for the Muslim community, showing the true image of Muslims living in the city through an outreach programme. The volunteer ‘ambassadors’ will go into schools and workplaces to dispel myths about the religion and share stories of their lives. It is hoped that the project will help to further integrate the Muslim community in Nottingham, and I welcome the aims of this project.
- The Family Medical Centre on Carlton Road was rated as outstanding by the Care Quality Commission this week. The CQC report rated it as outstanding for providing services that were responsive to people’s needs and said that the practice was well-led, and was particularly committed to dealing with people in vulnerable circumstances. I want to congratulation all the staff at the Family Medical Centre for their fantastic work. If you’re interested in reading the full report, you can do so here.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- Last week the Queen’s Speech set out the Government’s agenda for the new session of Parliament. There were a number of debates in the House of Commons this week on the proposed policies and legislation in the speech. On Monday the debate focused on public services. One of the key things missing from the Queen’s Speech was action to tackle the state of the National Health Service. The NHS is in a very precarious position: hospital finances are near breaking point; waiting lists are high; and the NHS is facing a workforce crisis with understaffing. Cuts to nurse training places during the last Parliament have created workforce shortages and led to a reliance on expensive agency staff. NHS Improvement, the body responsible for overseeing hospitals, published figures last week showing that NHS trusts ended 2015-16 with a record £2.45 billion deficit. I am concerned that the decade from 2010 to 2020 is set to be marked by the biggest sustained funding squeeze on the NHS ever.
- With East Midlands Ambulance Service judged as ‘inadequate’ on safety by the Care Quality Commission, I took the opportunity to challenge Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt about it this week. I pressed him to focus on the quality of this important part of our health service and to give answers about how he would act on the report and do something about it.
- On Tuesday the Defence Secretary provided an update on the UK’s contribution to military operations and wider efforts to defeat ISIL Daesh. The Defence Secretary stated that the military campaign against Daesh is making progress, and that the RAF has now conducted over 760 precision airstrikes in Iraq and an additional 43 strikes in Syria against Daesh assets. Daesh’s finances have been targeted, its leadership has been struck, and in Iraq around 40% of the territory that Daesh once held has been retaken – with no civilian casualties yet reported as a result of UK action. Even though these issues are not in the news daily, we should still recognise the extraordinary bravery, commitment and skill of the men and women in our Armed Forces.
- On Thursday the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills made a statement on Britain’s steel industry. The statement also followed a meeting of Tata’s board at which progress was reviewed on the sale. I welcomed confirmation from the Government that Tata is acting as a responsible seller, which is vital for the future of the industry. I also welcomed the Government’s publication of a consultation on the British Steel Pension Scheme as it is clearly an issue that requires resolution. Any resolution must protect the pensions of the scheme’s 130,000 beneficiaries and avoid setting a potentially dangerous precedent for the millions of other occupational pensioners. Steel is a strategic industry and I will continue to support the action needed so that UK steel can have a bright future.
- There were two important contributions to the economic EU debate this week. On Monday, a report from Treasury officials was published on the immediate economic impact of leaving the EU. The report looked at three immediate economic impacts of leaving: (1) the ‘transition effect’ of the UK becoming less open to trade and investment (2) uncertainty impacting on economic decisions (3) financial market volatility. Under cautious assumptions, the ‘shock scenario’ leaves GDP 3.6% lower than it would have been after 2 years, with half a million more people unemployed. If those three economic impacts are larger – the ‘severe shock’ scenario – GDP would be 6% lower over two years, with potentially 820,000 more people unemployed, and real wages down 4%. The second contribution was a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which looked at the impact of Brexit on the public finances. They found that leaving the EU would mean “at least an additional one or two years of ‘austerity’ – spending cuts or tax rises”. I raised this in the Commons this week and highlighted the severe shock that would flow if Britain fell back on World Trade Organisation rules and actually left the single market as some advocate.
- I was deeply saddened last week to see news of floods in Sri Lanka. Three days of torrential rain caused devastation, as landslides and flooding left around 100 people dead and forced half a million to flee their homes. The waters have now receded, and I hope that those who were affected receive the support they need. I am sending my thoughts to those suffering, and Sri Lankans in the UK who have friends or relatives affected.
- Parliament is now starting the short Whitsun recess and I’ll send the next MP Update report after the week when the Commons returns.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Access to justice is a fundamental right, but the Government’s approach to the justice system has brought it close to “breaking point”, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee released this week. The group of MPs – from all parties – found that the ill-thought through 26% cut to our criminal justice system since 2010 has hindered the ability of courts to deliver justice. Disgracefully, only 55% of witnesses would be prepared to be a witness again. There are some things that a decent, humane society has to provide to its citizens, and access to a fair justice system is one. The full report is here.
I’d be interested if you or those you know have experienced difficulties accessing fair justice because of the costs of getting legal advice that used to be more available? Or have you noticed other ways in which our local criminal or civil courts have been affected in recent years? This is an issue not just for those seeking redress or facing financial problems, but also victims and witnesses of crimes too.