Our Government must now start to pay serious attention to Small and Micro businesses as we seek to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown period. The prospect of these businesses assisting in recovery is very clear as the speed of increasing the number of workers and ensuring that most of the money created will go straight back into the local economy is well proven. The growth of our economy and increase in worker numbers is much more extensive and sustainable through small businesses than by most Medium and Large Businesses which are usually much more mature and direct their profits to go elsewhere. However inevitably while the Labour Party primarily listens to trade unions that help fund them, the Conservative Party listens almost exclusively to people who are very wealthy and so this primarily through people who are linked to Medium and Large businesses. A classic example is in recent story about the Westferry Printworks Development which has occurred by a relatively modest investment into the Party from a friend of a Minister which has allowed his Large Business to make a massive saving in its local taxation and a majore reduction in and affordable housing provision. By contrast very few Small and Micro Businesses involve people who need trade unions or who have the profile or the funds to invest significant sums in political parties. In addition many of them have far more interest in investing in local settings and supporting local people. Clearly the number of Small and Micro Businesses is very substantial and so engaging with them requires a much harder piece of work than inviting a few large companies into No 10 Downing Street for a few glasses of wine and a speech by a Minister. Indeed most Small and Micro Businesses would not have the time to travel to Downing Street. So it is perhaps understandable that when the Government sets up its policies such as to help small businesses, that it then loses the capability to actually achieve what they claim is their priority.
One of the significant elements of this is the opportunities to establish Apprenticeships across the UK. Back in 2017 the Government set up the Apprenticeship Levy scheme which made a small tax on Companies that had a payroll of more than £3M to enable them to use most of that money to recruit and train apprentices. To get to this size meant that the Company would be either a very large Small Business (they have turnovers of up to a maximum of £10M and employ up to 50 people) or a Medium Business and beyond. The promise at the time was that a small proportion of this money would be released to enable Small and Micro Businesses to recruit Apprentices or to train their own Apprentices. However despite a number of clear releases of the funding from local public sector agencies that wanted some of their funds to go to small businesses, the inadequate mechanisms for Small and Micro Businesses to be able to use the money that was available proved to be almost impossible. Much more recently on last Tuesday there was a similar issue that arose in Parliament following a question from Labour MP Seema Malhotra who is the Shadow Minister for work and pensions. The response came from Gillian Keegan who is the Chichester MP and also the Minister responsible for Apprenticeships. Her response included:
Apprenticeships will have an important role to play in creating employment opportunities, particularly for young people, and supporting employers in all sectors to access the skilled workforce they need to recover and grow post COVID-19. The flexibilities we have introduced are enabling apprenticeships to continue. We are looking to support employers of all sizes, and particularly smaller businesses, to take on new apprentices this year. We will set out further details in due course. We will also ensure that there is sufficient funding to support small businesses wanting to take on an apprentice this year.We are continuing to meet with employers and their representative organisations. I hosted a series of round tables with employers and business representative groups to discuss what more is needed to support employers, including the Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
So then on the following day Gillian posted the tweet above which referred to her contact with Mace Group and so I sent her a tweet “So Gillian great to see, bearing in mind your answer to Seema yesterday. I wonder if you have plans to engage with businesses smaller than Mace?” I have not yet had a response from her but a day later she spoke to Screwfix Apprentices. Now the good news is that both of these Companies work in the same sort of sector that my company does. However both of them are very large companies and whilst there is no suggestion that they invest in political parties the challenge is how will we move forward to get apprenticeships set up for small companies in a meaningful way this year or even in the next three years, given how long the Apprenticeship Levy has taken to avoid solving the challenges?