- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Western Mail essay by Joyce Watson AM, Mid and West Wales
Small businesses form the backbone of the Welsh economy, accounting for more than half of total employment in Wales, with micro enterprises – businesses employing fewer than 10 people – providing nearly a third of all private sector employment in Wales.
This summer I visited businesses across mid and west Wales – individual traders, town business groups and trade boards, finding out what they need to grow their businesses. I also joined the ‘business buddy’ scheme organised by the Forum for Private Business.
I sent out a short survey, asking business people for their views on and priorities for the future. I hope my findings can help inform Welsh Government policies, and I will be submitting a report to the Minister.
Today (Wednesday 12 October) I have an Assembly short debate, Small Businesses, Big Impact, where I will present my findings.
Welsh businesses want to see the UK Government act on issues like bank lending, the cost and terms of credit, a targeted VAT cut to help boost the construction industry, and a national insurance tax break for small businesses that take on new staff.
But the Assembly can help with access to broadband, making sure public bodies pay invoices promptly, making sure small firms can compete for public sector contracts, improving town centre regeneration, and helping small businesses make the most of training and apprenticeship schemes.
I was encouraged that half (50%) of those surveyed said support to offer apprenticeships and training places was a big issue or quite important to them. Schemes like GO Wales have helped more small businesses take on trainees, so let’s put small businesses at the heart of these training programmes.
In Carmarthenshire the Welsh Government, the College, the local training association and local construction traders have teamed up to run a Shared Apprenticeships Scheme. Young people develop a diversity of skills with different firms that would have struggled to support a traditional three-year apprenticeship, are able to take on trainees on a rotation basis. This excellent model of working together should be extended to other sectors and the rest of Wales.
The Welsh Government will invest £75 million over the next three years in the Jobs Growth Wales scheme to help 4,000 young people every year access training and employment opportunities. Let’s put small businesses at the heart of this.
Protecting High Street vibrancy was a concern which came up repeatedly, with issues including out of town retail developments, town centre parking and planning.
Over half (53%) of businesses surveyed said town centre parking – costs and capacity – is an issue, particularly in Dolgellau, Bala, Aberystwyth, Milford Haven and Carmarthen.
In Dolgellau, Fishguard, Cardigan, Kilgetty and Bala people said living in a broadband ‘slow spot’ was holding their business back. Nearly one in three (28%) said access to broadband was a big issue.
The Welsh Government Broadband Support scheme was set up to directly fund those properties unable to receive current generation broadband – either as a subsidy for satellite equipment, or by allowing funds to be pooled to provide community services, ensuring all exchanges in Wales are ADSL-enabled.
The Government has committed to delivering broadband to all households and businesses by 2015. Let’s prioritise small businesses such as the small, smart tourist operators looking to take advantage of the growth in the ‘last minute break’ market.
The biggest issue for the businesses I contacted was procurement practices and delays in local authorities paying invoices on time. Over a third (38%) said it was a big problem.
50 per cent of the £4.3 billion public spend in Wales now goes to Wales-based suppliers, mostly SMEs, up from 35 per cent in 2003. That’s a measurable improvement benefiting our businesses and our communities, . However, more can be done to simplify the process to allow small firms – and new start-ups – to compete fairly for contracts with larger companies.
The Minister has demonstrated her commitment to support Welsh business and support the recovery, announcing five new enterprise zones, the micro-business strategy, and three additional priority sectors for Wales. The draft budget sets out a plan for growth, and jobs and SMEs must be at the heart of that vision.
Our small businesses have the potential to drive the Welsh economy forward, steering it to a more prosperous, fair and sustainable future.