Could the appointment of a new small business minister reinvigorate the position vacated by Margot James? We’ve asked a handful of decision makers what areas they feel should be prioritised by Andrew Griffiths in the coming months to support small enterprise.
Following in the footsteps of Margot James, now a minister of state at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Andrew Griffiths enters the role with brief business experience in the 1980s at his family’s West Midlands engineering business, and at the Leeds Permanent Building Society (now Halifax).
Griffiths was elected as MP for Burton in 2010, and has held positions as chief as staff to both Theresa May and Eric Pickles MP, also working as a farming advisor for the Conservative Party in the European Parliament.
A key legacy left by James was her fight against late payments, bringing in payment reporting rules for large firms and the new small business commissioner. In the eyes of Britain’s small business owners, however, there is a lot more Griffiths could do to support entrepreneurs.
With the new data protection bill enforcing the EU’s GDPR directive in April 2018, the government has faced criticism for failing to effectively inform small business owners of new privacy obligations, and a climate of fear has subsequently emerged.
Graham L. Morgan, SME advisor with national network Business Doctors said addressing low awareness should be high on Griffiths’ to-do list.
“I would suggest some real leadership around the implications of GDPR as a priority,” he told us.
“From my consulting work with small business owners around the Cardiff area, I know that scores yet understand what is required of them in order to comply with the legislation.”
With direct BEIS support seemingly lacking, small business owners have been left to sweat over heavy penalties for non-compliance.
“If this isn’t promptly remedied, there will be a significant impact on GDP and economic activity,” Morgan added.
Fix the bank referral scheme
Chirag Shah, CEO of Nucleus Commercial Finance, believes Griffiths’ passionate support of local pub businesses might see him campaign for better funding access for small firms struggling to meet bank finance requirements.
“I expect that his awareness of this wider SME issue is strong”, Shah said. “This access must be prioritised, with a long and hard look at initiatives such as the bank referral scheme to ensure they are driving the desired results.”
The bank referral scheme was launched in November 2016 to improve access to finance for small business owners. The UK’s largest lenders are committed to passing on details of rejected loan applicants onto alternative finance providers.
However, after an unexpectedly low volume of referrals, the Treasury is reviewing the entire scheme, and research continues to reveal low levels of funding access for small business owners.
Startup tax concessions
Sam Rogers, commercial director of Rampart PR, urged Griffiths to look at further tax concessions for startup founders as a way to improve survival rates of new businesses.
“Given the huge tax and administrative burdens on small businesses, which make up over 99 per cent of the UK economy, some concessions for in this regard for start-ups would be a real breath of fresh air,” he explained.
“More businesses would survive those difficult first few years, and the backbone of the economy might continue to strengthen.”
A shortage of skilled workers has consistently been found to have affected small business productivity and growth in recent years, with over half of employers admitting they have recruited underqualified staff in the past year. As automation and robotics become a greater part of UK workplaces, equipping the workforce for the future will be key.
With this in mind, Jonathan Richards, CEO of HR software platform breatheHR, urged Griffiths to prioritise the skills gap.
“To do this, there needs to be further investment in schools and higher education to supply the next generation with the digital skills needed, especially as we embark on the “fourth industrial revolution’,” Richards explained.
“Every business owner I talk to tells me the skills gap is their number one concern. A focus is also needed on upskilling and re-training those at risk of losing jobs to automation by supporting SMEs with the right guidance and materials to do so themselves internally.”
Winning over Britain’s entrepreneurs
Rogers added that recent comments made by Griffiths towards Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – The Mirror reported Griffiths said Corbyn should be “put in a care home” – and his seemingly limited commercial experience could see him struggle to win over the business community.
“Following his recently reported ageist taunting of Jeremy Corbyn, it is difficult to imagine that the 33 per cent of small business owners over the age of 55 were heartened to hear of Andrew Griffiths’ appointment,” Rogers said.
“Perhaps younger business owners will be better served, but other than working at his Dad’s business in the 1980s, it’s hard to see what experience Griffiths is going to bring to the table.”
Griffiths suitability for the role was further questioned by Dan Bedi, CEO and co-founder of sportstech startup The Fan Arena.
“Another career politician who has done relatively little in the business world, in charge of a sector which is the backbone of the UK economy – possibly even more so now post-Brexit,” Bedi told Business Advice.
Do you share the priorities of our panel? Let us know what your views are at firstname.lastname@example.org
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