Originally featured in the Kent regional magazine for the Federation of Small Businesses.
It has become almost a cliché in British politics to talk about the difficulties faced by small businesses in Britain. It has become de riguer to suggest that our ‘nation of shopkeepers’ need help and support.
Politicians will often identify needing greater lending or preventing predatory practices by large multi-nationals as potential boosts for small businesses. While these are important issues, the actual sources of Britain’s small businesses’ discontents are less commonly identified.
My small contribution to this endeavour is to raise the impact and cost of EU procurement laws. As Federation of Small Business members will know, historically, councils could go to local firms to fulfill important contracts. Local communities were well served by this arrangement. The council could support the businesses which serve the people that it represents, in a quick, cost-efficient and simple way.
Now, councils have to tender contracts across the entirety of the European Union, rather than a local basis. The European Union prohibits discrimination by “emanations of the state” on the grounds of nationality. Specifically, there is an obligation in European Union procurement regulations not to “treat a person who is not a national…more favourably than one who is.” As a result, local councils can no longer go and pay a local trusted family firm to complete a job, but rather have to complete a tender process which makes the work available to every European company which might express an interest.
Apart from being a colossal waste of time and money, there requirements punish local companies who could have historically relied upon the support of their local council. Nor is this playing field fair – other European states do not ‘gold plate’ regulations like these, or will often ignore them in favour of helping their local constituents.
It would – of course – be wrong for our councils to start breaking the law. It is, however, intolerable to have the European Union setting up barriers to the recovery and sustenance of small British businesses. Our ‘nation of shopkeepers’ would be bets served by independence from Brussels.