“Must try harder”

The Commons Select Committee for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy has today published its report into small businesses and productivity and hasn’t pulled its punches when it comes to its conclusions and recommendations to Government.

“The concept of productivity is still not widely understood by SMEs and most would struggle to measure it or recognise the benefit of taking action to improve it” is the opening tirade.

The Government should connect and engage with SMEs, both directly and through representative bodies, to ensure that businesses have a more meaningful understanding of productivity, why it matters to them and why they should invest time in measuring and acting upon it” is the conclusion.

Here, here, we say. 

Many of the means of encouraging growth in productivity in the past come under attack.

“The Government should ensure that programmes and support for SMEs have been adequately stress tested before they are introduced so that they are more likely to endure” the Committee says in a thinly disguised side-swipe at the myriad initiatives that have come and gone in the past.

Concern is expressed too about the variable performance of LEPs and Growth Hubs and the difficulty small businesses have in accessing them.

Leadership, management and digital skills within businesses themselves come under the spotlight, recognising that many small businesses lack the time and financial resources to invest in training. Where once digital skills meant being able to use the internet, now we’re entering a world of AI, machine learning and robotics, which, properly implemented, will propel productivity forward. In response, the report recommends that the Government urgently implements a voucher scheme to encourage business owners to explore and take-up the management and skills training that is available. 

In addition to its focus on productivity, the report comments on the damaging effects of the late payment culture, public sector procurement and the possible funding gap for supporting small businesses when the U.K. leaves the EU.

All in all, it’s an excellent report. Hard hitting, packed with recommendations, this is what we need from our politicians and policy makers. 

With so much resource and attention being focused on Brexit at this time, it is hard to be confident of short-term results from a report like this, but the business community must hold the Government to account and make sure change happens.

If it doesn’t, the report will be consigned to a drawer in Whitehall and the U.K. will fall further behind its competitors on the global stage at a time when it needs to be at its strongest and most entrepreneurial. That’s not a legacy we can afford to leave to the next generation.

“Must try harder”

By: Paul Marston

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