02 August 2023

Rishi Sunak insists ‘business is good’ for small firms when told about closures

02 August 2023

Rishi Sunak insisted that “business is good” for many independent companies when his Government’s policies were blamed for small business closures.

The Prime Minister said publicans at a beer festival had told him business was booming, despite having been heckled at the event.

A small business owner from his Richmond constituency in North Yorkshire told him during an LBC Radio call-in on Wednesday that four small firms in the area shut their doors last week.

Businesses are always opening as well and starting up. And I've seen lots of that when I've been out and about recently

She said that they cited “increased taxes, soaring cost, impact of Brexit, difficulty finding staff, all combined with the fact that it was your Government that crashed the economy and left people without any spare disposable income to spend”.

She asked Mr Sunak: “What are you going to do about the fact that your Tory policies are causing small businesses to shut up shop?”

The Prime Minister denied that Brexit was “the reason that some businesses are struggling at the moment”, pointing instead to energy bills and inflation, which he said were “now coming down”.

He said it was “obviously sad” the four small businesses in Richmond were closing, some of which he said he knew “personally”.

He continued: “Every business is going to have different circumstances and what happens in the economy (is that) businesses are always opening as well and starting up. And I’ve seen lots of that when I’ve been out and about recently, which is great to see.”

Mr Sunak said that when he spoke to breweries at a London beer event, “many of them were telling me that actually business is good, that footfall is up, that they’re seeing confidence return”.

But the Prime Minister was jeered during his visit to the Great British Beer Festival on Tuesday by a publican angry about his shake-up of the alcohol duty regime that increased tax on a range of drinks.

Rudi Keyser, a former brewer, told the PA news agency that the tax hike would hit business already struggling with “the energy crisis plus having to pay back Covid loans”.

“The amount of breweries that have shut down in the last year has been phenomenal,” Mr Keyser said.

Mr Sunak said practical steps that the Government was taking to help small businesses included welfare system reforms to help move people into work to address staff shortages; business rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure firms; and reductions in employers’ National Insurance bills.

But End Fuel Poverty Coalition co-ordinator Simon Francis said: “Finally the PM has woken up to the fact that energy bills are causing households to struggle and businesses to close – including those in his own constituency.

“It’s not a question of either Government policies or energy bills wrecking the country, they are one and the same thing. The PM should be standing up for small businesses and households who are facing mounting energy debts, even before winter starts.”

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