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Almost 1 million businesses close over three years in Brexit hit to high street - how Liberal Democrats would reverse this catastrophe

December 10, 2019 8:31 AM

Almost one million businesses in the UK have closed in the past three years, analysis by the Liberal Democrats has revealed, showing how Brexit uncertainty under the Conservatives is hitting our high streets.

It comes as the Liberal Democrats unveil a series of measures to reverse this decline and boost small businesses, to mark Small Business Saturday.

Figures from the ONS show that 978,285 businesses closed their doors between 2016-2018. This is an increase of almost a third (28%) compared to the 765,000 businesses that closed in the three previous years.

The Federation of Small Businesses has warned that a no deal Brexit, which Boris Johnson has repeatedly refused to rule out, would mean more damage to firms.

Firms are also being held back by the Conservative government's failure to reform business rates, and by new taxes on the self-employed that business groups have described as "disastrous".

The Liberal Democrats would boost small businesses by:

Scrapping business rates and replacing them with a new land value tax on landlords
Reviewing taxes to help support the self-employed
Toughening the prompt payment code to ensure small businesses are paid on time

Expanding the Future High Streets Fund to support the redevelopment of more town centres and high streets.

Creating a new Start-Up Allowance, to support business owners with their living costs in the crucial first few weeks of starting a business

Reforming the apprenticeship levy by creating a wider "Skills and Training Levy" that targets 25% of the funds into areas with the greatest skills needs

Liberal Democrats spokesperson Chuka Umunna, who led the campaign to introduce Small Business Saturday in the UK, said:

"Since its launch in the UK in 2013, Small Business Saturday has been an opportunity to celebrate the hard work of independent small businesses that contribute so much to their local communities. But it's also a time to consider the challenges being faced by business owners and entrepreneurs who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

"This Conservative government has completely failed small businesses, saddling them with years of Brexit uncertainty and ignoring urgent calls to reform business rates.

"Boris Johnson now wants to plough ahead with crashing the UK out of the EU, which would mean even more damage to businesses up and down the country.

"The Liberal Democrats will rescue our high streets by stopping Brexit, scrapping outdated business rates and introducing more support for entrepreneurs."

Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Sam Gyimah, said:

"Each business closed represents jobs, investment and opportunities lost to our country.

"Now Boris Johnson's Conservatives want to plunge small businesses into even more uncertainty by pursuing a Brexit plan that risks yet another No Deal cliff edge in December 2020. They have lost any right to call themselves the party of business.

"Liberal Democrats are proud to be a party that supports businesses. We will stop Brexit, get back to the dealing with the issues that really matter to small businesses and build a brighter future."

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats on the number of businesses closing, including in each region and local authority, is available here. The figures on businesses closing are taken from the ONS Business Demography 2018 (published 19 November 2019).

London has been particularly badly hit, with 230,740 businesses closing from 2016 to 2018, up 39% compared to the three previous years.

Small Business Saturday was launched in the UK in 2013 following a campaign led by Chuka Umunna.

Two-fifths of SMEs surveyed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) believe a No Deal Brexit would damage their firm (Federation of Small Businesses).

The Conservative government is introducing IR35, which will change the way self employed contractors are dealt with in the tax system from April 2020. The Association of Independent Professionals and Self Employed has called the move "disastrous".