John Longworth, Director General of British Chambers of Commerce visited Business West recently to meet with local businesses in Bristol.
Phil Smith, managing director of Business West explained, “We wanted John to come and hear about all the good work we do at Business West to support and represent local businesses as well as to hear from the businesses themselves about issues and barriers to growth that they experience on a daily basis. British Chambers of Commerce is a national network of over 50 accredited chambers representing over 100,000 businesses. They have excellent connections with government officials and ministers and are able to lobby on our behalf to ensure local business issues are heard at a national level where it really matters.”
The discussion, involving EC Harris, Barton Wilmore, 3Sixty, JBP, UWE and the chair of the West of England LEP, as well as policy staff, the MD and chairman of Business West identified the following as critical business issues locally: Availability of finance Lack of the right skills Employment regulations Planning regime and loss of strategic level of planning SME access to government procurement Lack of clear national strategy on infrastructure – including ports, energy, transportOverall the feel of the meeting was quite upbeat, with individuals positive about the prospects for their own businesses but concerned over uncertain economic conditions. In addition, people were generally positive about the messages coming out from government but stressed the need for action.
Colin Skellett, Business West board member and chair of the West of England LEP, outlined some of the areas where there was a general feeling that government had got it wrong and needed to do more. He said, "Whilst the government are sending out many of the right messages, there needs to be more clear action and focus on key business issues. We are seeing a whole raft of different initiatives but the tendency to answer every problem with a new fund or scheme causes confusion and distraction. The government is not yet addressing the needs of small business. With the closure of Business Link and a greater emphasis on the private sector to create jobs, we need to be doing more to support SMEs, to reduce the unnecessary red tape that hinders businesses and make it easier to access the finance they require to grow. We will work closely with British Chambers to keep lobbying and representing the local business community on these and other issues."
Chris Thurling, MD of 3Sixty digital agency, explained the problems that small business in particular are facing. He said, "Small businesses are still having difficulty in raising funding for working capital, it is far harder now than 5 years ago. When you add to that the problems we have in actually getting paid and the delay in payments coming through, as well as the overall uncertainty business has about future growth, times are tough for smaller businesses in particular. The Chamber of Commerce network has a key role to play in supporting small business and through Business West Chambers of Commerce in Bristol, Bath and Gloucestershire much of that support is available but Government could do more and that is where British Chambers of Commerce becomes important, to help lobby at a national level for change."
Richard Bonner, location leader for EC Harris in the South West said, "The construction sector has been hard hit over the last few years and smart organisations have refocused their priorities. At EC Harris we work around all aspects of the asset lifecycle and have shifted much of our efforts into growth sectors, such as energy and infrastructure. In the South West there are major opportunities around nuclear power at Oldbury and Hinkley for example. Business West and the Chamber of Commerce have key roles in helping local businesses to benefit from such projects, particularly in lobbying the Government to provide clarity on their strategic energy policy, and to lobby for better, simpler government procurement processes.”
PRESS RELEASE - 11th June 2012