Open for Business? Yes, We Should Be!

I spent most of 2022 working on my business, Alternative Scents. During that time I learned a lot about what I should be prioritising in life, as well as proper business practice. I don’t know many university students who, when told they need a non-political hobby by their nearest and dearest, decide to start their own satiric candle company. I do, however, know of individuals who seek self-employment and find the prospect of starting out to be deeply challenging. Entrepreneurship is not a skillset taught in schools, and is therefore a terrifying unknown for many people. In this respect I feel lucky to be starting out so young. I have minimal work experience outside of this, so the idea of being my own boss is not quite so nerve wracking. 

However, I have still lost sleep over the rate of taxes and legalities of running a small business. At twenty one, my mind is full of things like business insurance, tax compliance, and the stress of finding legal representation, rather than the ever increasing prices for drinks at our local Spoons. Although, given that I have included the Spoons reference, perhaps it is on my mind more than I would care to admit. It all seems so daunting, and in my worst nightmares, set up for failure. This fear got me thinking: Is the United Kingdom a business friendly country? Or, would I and other small business owners be better served by looking elsewhere? 

 This is not a binary issue. Take the pandemic, for example. Many businesses were able to stay afloat because of government support schemes. However, many more businesses, particularly small independent shops, couldn’t take the economic pressure and no amount of government support could keep them afloat. Moreover, these same support schemes have to be paid for eventually – there is no such thing as free money. The very businesses who were helped by governmental aid are now being hurt by a stark rise in the rate of corporate tax, no doubt being undertaken because of increased spending during the pandemic. 

Byres Road, a hub for the West End of Glasgow, is only just recovering from this economic devastation. The impression I received of this street upon my arrival at University, in the Autumn of 2020, is very different from the one incoming students would perceive today. Many of the vacant storefronts have now been bought and are open for business. While this recovery is promising, it also begs the question of longevity. For every new store or cafe that has opened, there has been one to shut either temporarily or permanently. There is a distinct sense of flux in this area. For example, while my favourite restaurant has been able to stay afloat, its menu has changed so much that it is no longer recognizable. These changes have impacted the clientele who visit the establishment, transitioning it from being a popular hub for young professionals, into something oriented toward the older denizens of the area. I understand this can be blamed on inflation, with older demographics prioritised as a more stable market. Nonetheless, it is a prime example of the struggles even successful businesses are facing right now. If established restaurants have to shed their skin in such ways, surely that can’t mean good things for keen restaurateurs who are just starting out. 

The struggles I have described are largely outside the control of local government. Supply chain issues and the far reaching impact of a global pandemic are dependent on international factors. Even the British Government can’t fix international trade alone, or at the drop of a hat. In this respect, the question of friendliness towards business seems solved: of course the government encourages business insofar as they are able. However, this is not true of the recent struggles faced by the Glasgow Cab Trade, which have been directly caused by our local government. 

For clarity, I care about the environment. That said, I am concerned by the recent behaviour of local governments everywhere when it comes to various social issues. Glasgow is a pressure point for this. The City Council seems intent on destroying and undermining a backbone of transportation; the cab trade. Every cab driver in the city is responsible for their own (expensive) vehicle. The government is working to mandate these business owners purchase new vehicles or update their existing ones to be more “eco friendly”.  If they cannot drive a car which fits within the LEZ (low emission zone) regulations, they cannot easily do business in Glasgow. Unfortunately, many of these drivers cannot afford such a change. This is a dangerous trend. It shows local governments are eager to use popular social issues in an effort to gain greater control over the people. These drivers are an insight into a much bigger and increasingly toxic cultural issue in the United Kingdom.

 Are we so far gone as a country that we would rather lose economic progress in the pursuit of transient social credit? I remember a time, not too long ago, when business owners recognised that our work was our own, and that the government should have limited control over it. I remember a time when such stifling restrictions would have been met with widespread criticism and social outcry, not silence from the public which we cater to. The public, our customers, have become complacent. So long as the government wraps up their push for control with a "social justice" themed bow, our consumers will happily accept invasive restrictions. These tactics are at the core of the SNP and Green coalition. In today’s world, business and free enterprise come second to "social justice" and public emotion. The Conservative Party, in British Government, is a home to business and the freedoms that come with it. However, it is ultimately limited by the actions of local and regional governments controlled by power hungry parties. Devolution is a joy, isn’t it? 

– Calista Toner

April 14th, 2023