WHILE severe weather has had a negative impact on small firms, a snap poll suggests that fuel duty will have an even greater impact, leading Hunts business leaders to demand Government action.

A quarter of small businesses had to close during the pre-Christmas severe weather and heavy snowfall, many for at least five days, overall costing the majority up to £5,000, new figures from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) show.

In a snap poll of 1,300 members, 24 per cent of small firms said they had to close, of which 37 per cent said they closed for up to five days and an additional seven per cent closed for more than five days for a number of reasons, including transport disruption, staff absences and loss of access to their premises.

In addition, on January 4, planned tax increases came into force, raising VAT to 20 per cent and putting fuel duty rates at a record high. More than a third (39 per cent) of small businesses said that the rise in fuel duty would have a significant impact on their business, followed by the rise in VAT (27 per cent), with only 24 per cent saying snow had had a similar impact.

The severe weather and heavy snowfall caused huge disruption to small firms with a third (30 per cent) claiming that up to 50 per cent of their staff were absent for at least one day. The impact of the snow cost six in 10 (58 per cent) up to £5,000 and 13 per cent more than this.

FSB Huntingdonshire chairman Malcolm Lyons said: “Heavy snowfall and severe weather have put a strain on already hard-hit small firms at an important time for business.

“Coupled with the increase in VAT and the huge rise in fuel duty, this is tarnishing the potential of small businesses, at a time when the Government is putting much of its hope in the sector to put the economy back onto firm ground.

“While the Government cannot control the weather, it can reduce the impact of record fuel duty rates on everyone, not just small businesses. Small firms may recover from the severe weather, but the same cannot be said for the tax increases, which the Government has said are here to stay.

“It is unacceptable that the Government has u-turned on its manifesto promise to introduce a fuel duty stabiliser, and it is vital that this is put in place immediately to remove some of the strain from small businesses so that they can get on with creating jobs and helping to grow the economy.”