21st Oct, 2017

West Midlands devolution 'must support small firms' say businesses

FUTURE West Midlands devolution must support small firms, businesses say.

Any further devolution of powers to the region should provide enhanced support for local small firms, according to the West Midlands Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The call comes ahead of the 100-day anniversary of Andy Street’s election as the first mayor for the region.

The FSB says its survey of nearly 200 business people found the majority (57%) of West Midlands small firms with an opinion on devolution support the principle of giving more powers to local leaders. More than a third (37%) feel devolution is good for their individual businesses.

But small firms are concerned about their ability to feed into devolution deal making. Only a quarter (26%) feel they have been consulted on the devolution process.

Around half (46%) feel they cannot contribute to ongoing decision-making and a similar proportion (50%) believe there are not means to hold locally elected leaders to account.

Ian O’Donnell, FSB WMCA policy lead for West Midlands, said: “It’s great that Andy Street has already welcomed us onto his business advisory group. The mayor clearly recognises that devolution success will hinge on supporting the small firms that account for 99% of the local business community.

“The Business Secretary’s announcement at the end of last month that discussions concerning further devolution for the West Midlands are underway is encouraging.

“It’s crucial that small firms are able to feed into deal making for all future agreements. Any new powers and funding will need to be accompanied by a ramp-up in engagement with West Midlands small firms.”

Small businesses also flag the need for greater accountability among Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). Only a quarter (25%) of those with an opinion on the issue in the West Midlands believe they are able to communicate directly with their local LEP.

Less than a third (29%) of small firms in the region believe their LEP represents the interests of the local business community. Just one in seven (16%) feel LEPs represent the views of their individual firms.

Mr O’Donnell added: “LEPs do some great work across the West Midlands and it’s crucial that they’re equipped to maintain vital business support services beyond Brexit. That being said, reform is urgently needed.

“What we can’t have is a situation where any one particular business demographic or group is dominating proceedings within a LEP. These Partnerships need to be beyond reproach in terms of their governance, overall transparency and representativeness. They should be channels for economic growth and targeted business support, not old boys’ clubs.

“Equally, the government should produce comprehensive business data, including unregistered businesses, at a LEP level so Partnerships can tailor local growth strategies effectively.”

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