Poor air quality in our major conurbations is an important issue that needs to be tackled and small businesses are more than willing to play their part.

However, national and local Government also need to step up to the task – by taking a strategic and evidence led approach that allows businesses to adapt and invest in the right places. The pathway to reaching air quality targets must be affordable, achievable and fair. Small businesses cannot be burdened with substantial additional costs associated with new regulations or requirements.

At all levels, Government must drive the transition to cleaner vehicles through investing in, and incentivising, the modernisation of the UK’s old and inefficient energy infrastructure. The crushing lack of electric vehicle charging stations across the country is a barrier for many drivers, especially businesses, switching to cleaner fuels.

That said, air quality is a local issue, requiring different solutions in different parts of the country. Local Authorities must engage with their small business communities, locally, to better understand the challenges of meeting air quality measures, including the cost burden, and how these can be eased.

In this region, FSB West Midlands responded to Birmingham City Council’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) consultation, emphasising the need to support small firms hit by any proposed enforcement, giving them time to prepare.

We called for the necessary infrastructure to be installed, so that there are realistic and practical opportunities to switch to electric vehicles, adopt green technologies and to avoid punitive penalties associated with petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. We also called for transparency – with detailed information about CAZ income and expenditure to be readily available for scrutiny by local businesses and residents.

This is particularly important because CAZ charges come at a time when many businesses are already facing a variety of challenging cost burdens. Auto-enrolment pensions, National Minimum Wage increases, disproportionate increases in commercial property costs, and business rates rises are a major worry for many.

We all want and need clean air. We need to be clear about how we achieve it.

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