Independent opticians along with every other high street retailer play an important role in boosting growth and creating jobs in their local community. When I am speaking to Sight Care independent practice owners I regularly hear first-hand the challenges they are facing and what the government should be doing to help small businesses grow and succeed.

Theresa May’s call for a snap general election for June 8 gives the UK’s 4,000 independent opticians the opportunity to ask what their parliamentary candidates would do to help them grow their businesses and boost the economy, helping them to make an informed decision at the ballot box.

Small businesses and red tape

Despite the UK Government’s continued pledge to cut red tape for British business this has not been in evidence, with the EU continuing to implement numerous new laws. Complying to such high levels of legislation takes its toll on small businesses and prevents business growth and although the UK Government has tried to cut red tape over the last four years there is still more which needs to be done to support the ever growing world of small business. Of course, Brexit should help put a stop to this.

Small businesses in any sector require support from funding and grants and they must question who will support them with increased funding, and also who will investigate lesser known opportunities such as business development grants. Failing to support British small businesses will slow not only their growth curve, but that of the economy too.

From national optician chains dominating the high street to large businesses not paying their smaller counterparts on time, large businesses often obstruct small companies from reaching their true potential. A blind eye has been turned to this previously, but whoever is successful in June must move to ensure this treatment stops.

Meanwhile, financial management is often an area which takes up the most time for independent opticians who cannot afford to or have taken the decision to outsource this to an accountant. This was further complicated when the Generally Accepted Accounting Practice in the UK (UK GAAP) was introduced. The successful party in June needs to look for a solution to the financial quagmire stopping entrepreneurs from focusing on business growth. The incumbent government is conscious of this having scrapped yearly tax returns in favour of real-time online accounts.

Broadband and business rates

The Government has previously encouraged small businesses across the UK to claim grants to improve internet connectivity. This was a great initiative, but it must be rolled out further to ensure small businesses outside of the catchment areas are not left behind by those companies which have taken advantage.

Finally, high street business rates continue to make it difficult for the independent optician to survive and for newly qualified opticians to enter the sector. High street rents are already outrageous and on top of that an increase in business rates is not at all welcome. The Government tells us that most SMEs will not be affected but this is definitely a concern to Sight Care members. It is totally unfair for smaller town centre independent opticians to be facing massive hikes, which risks a further decline in the sector as heavy business rates burden threatens some small businesses to close down or sell up.

John French, chief executive, Sight Care was responding to Optician’s pre-general election survey (In focus 12.05.17)