The Government is failing to address the problems of small businesses, particularly the lack of access to finance, West business leaders have told the director general of British Chambers of Commerce during a visit to Bristol.
John Longworth was in the city to meet Business West, the region’s business lobbying and advice that also runs chambers of commerce across the West.
Business West assembled a cross section of firms to air their views and speak about the particular challenges of doing business in the region.
The discussion involving property agents EC Harris, planning consultants Barton Willmore, digital agency 3Sixty, PR firm JBP, UWE and chair of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership Colin Skellett along with policy staff and executives from Business West, identified the critical business issues in the region as:
• 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, transport
Business West managing director Phil Smith said: “Overall 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.”
Mr Skellett outlined areas where there was a general feeling that Government had got it wrong and needed to do more.
He said: “While the Government is 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.”
3Sixty managing director Chris Thurling highlighted the problems that small businesses in particular are facing.
“Small businesses are still having difficulty in raising funding for working capital. It is far harder now than five years ago,” he said
“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.”
Richard Bonner, location leader for EC Harris in the South West added: "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 represents more than 6,000 businesses across its network of Chambers of Commerce in Bristol, Bath and Gloucestershire as well as South West Chambers of Commerce.
PUBLICATION: Bristol Business News - 18 June 2012