Business development · 12 October 2015

New regional projects aim to improve leadership skills of micro firm owners across UK

Over half of startups fail because of poor management and leadership, according to the CMI
Over half of startups fail because of poor management and leadership, according to the CMI

Small businesses across the UK are to be boosted by eight new projects aiming to improve their leadership skills. Forming part of the UK Futures Programme, run by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), the projects are trialling “innovative ways to improve the productivity of small businesses in their local community” by improving their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

The Futures Programme is aiming to target specific workplace development problems. A recent report from the CMI said bad management is at fault for the majority of startup failures and leaders of smaller firms were far less likely to have had management training than those at big businesses.

These initiatives will identify new ways to help the small firms which haven’t previously had any leadership or entrepreneurial training.

Under this programme, eight local anchor institutions will work with the government-backed UKCES to pilot new methods of improving small businesses’ leadership qualities. UKCES will be working alongside institutions including chambers of commerce, universities, colleges, councils, enterprise agencies and business schools, alongside local employers.

Each project represents a joint investment – organisations investing in cash, in-kind or both, alongside a maximum government contribution of £200,000 per project. The total government contribution totals £1.3m.

The eight programmes chosen are:

(1) Micro Firm Leader Development Programme – led by the Causeway Enterprise Agency, Northern Ireland

Nearly 90 per cent of firms in Northern Ireland have fewer than ten employees. Yet at the moment, leadership training is more suited to a management structure than these micro businesses. Accessibility is also a problem for these firms, with programmes predominantly being run in Belfast. This agency will run a Micro Firm Leadership programme to help reach out to these smaller businesses and test if the concept of purpose-driven leadership can also be useful for micro businesses.

(2) The Catalyst Project – led by Inverness College UHI, Scotland

Take up of leadership training in this region is low, as is entrepreneurial aspiration, while poor transport on the periphery and island communities provides an obstacle in terms of access to training.

The Catalyst project will provide a programme involving experienced entrepreneurs to help mentor and inspire other small firms, while testing the value of online peer networks alongside face to face delivery of training.

(3) Support Programme co-created by Regional  in Entrepreneurship and Leadership Skills, led by the Regional Learning Partnership, South West & Central Wales

The existing measures aiming to engage micro firms in this area are seen as ineffective due to poor take up. The Regional Learning Partnership’s project will create a regional model to signpost small firms to a variety of support services to meet a diverse set of training needs.

(4) CAPTURED – led by Newcastle University, North East of England.

Research has indicated smaller firms tend to underinvest in training, and when they do, it tends to be in financial or technical attributes rather than leadership and management training. Investment in these though, has a particularly strong impact on performance for firms with between five and 19 employees.

This project will engage large regional employers who will release a number of their senior managers to support small firms through a short programme designed to provide the small firms with leadership skills that they can implement in their business immediately.

(5) LEAP (Leadership & Entrepreneurship Advancing Productivity) – led by the University of Sunderland, North East of England.

The University offers unique access to the first “Fab Lab” in the region – one of an international network of innovation centres which provides open workshop access and lab space, access to specialist equipment and support for the commercialisation of new products and services. There is significant pent up demand from small firms for the use of this type of resource with 76 per cent of businesses saying they’d like to use facilities, equipment and expertise available, yet actual engagement is low.

This project will offer small firms drawn from the two main sectors in this region – manufacturing and creative skills – the chance to work together to share learning and expertise. If successful, those involved are expected to increase their turnover by ten per cent within two years.

(6) The Leadership Forge – led by Teesside University, Middlesbrough, North East of England.

Despite a large number of small businesses in this area, a high proportion aren’t growing.. This is partly due to the fact that business owners in this area do not currently see leadership development as a valid route to business growth.

This project will challenge the low value attributed to leadership development by local firms. It will develop a community of experiential and shared learning via workshops, coaching, site visits to large employers and peer learning sessions.

(7) Doncaster Leadership & Entrepreneurship Academy – led by Doncaster Council, Yorkshire and the Humber.

The Doncaster economy has suffered from a decline in traditional industries and lags behind regional and national performance indicators. The area has low business startup rates and low levels of growth amongst existing businesses.

This project hopes to unlock talent growth within small firms via a 12 month programme derived from European best practice and expert local knowledge.

(8) The Leadership Project – led by St Helens Chamber Ltd, Merseyside, North West of England.

Small firms in the region feel that they do not have the time to spend away from their business, to invest in their own skills and knowledge of management and leadership.

This project will give small firms the opportunity to be mentored by medium-sized firms in their area that have gone through a growth curve themselves and can relate to small firms’ issues. The project is unique in that it will also enable the cohort of small and medium companies to work together on a City Growth project that will contribute to the regeneration and economic growth of St Helens.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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