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East Midlands Chamber News

Kelly Tolhurst MP gathers evidence from regional business


More weight appears to be given by Government to bid-writing skills than the content of the bids themselves, was one of the key messages delivered to Small Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP last week.

It was one of the main concerns flagged at a roundtable discussion between the Minister and 20 regional businesses, representing a broad range of sectors.

Mrs Tolhurst is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and is gathering information from SMEs, primarily about business taxation in order to lobby the Treasury, as well as to re-examine corporation tax and business rates.

Among those around the table were solicitors, consultants, manufacturers, trainers and people from the construction industry.

Barriers to accessing public sector contracts was discussed at some length, with delegates sharing ‘real world’ experiences of the complexity, time and logistical obstacles built into the process that seemed to preclude many smaller businesses from ever winning a contract they might otherwise be well-suited to deliver.

The general view was that protocol was often more important than content and, despite claims to the contrary, price remained the deciding factor, which disadvantaged smaller companies.

On the topic of business rates, the minister heard that people generally felt the business rates system was outdated because it is based on the rentable value of the buildings and installed plant, which has no bearing on the value of the business.

Brexit, despite being the biggest thing to happen to British business since World War Two, barely got a mention, with the general guidance being that business was ‘just getting on with the job’ and wished politicians would do likewise.

Access to finance was a topic discussed. Growth Hubs were held to be of value. But the consensus was that SMEs needed better signposting to other avenues for finance, such as venture capital, to help overcome the cash flow problems that arise from rapid expansion.

There was a discussion on apprenticeships in engineering, with concerns raised that metalwork was disappearing from the school curriculum.

It was suggested that universities needed to forge relationships with schools on vocational issues and that academics often lacked the ‘real-world’ experience necessary to offer sound careers advice.

The Minister is particularly interested in the role of women in industry – the Government’s Productivity Review revealed that strong leadership and localised networking opportunities are significant aspects assisting women, together with a one-stop-shop online presence to provide them with the necessary support.

Of the people around the table at the discussion, which took place on Friday 18 January, 75% were women who worked mainly in director roles.