A new vision for small businesses in Wales?

Andy Atkinson looks at a new Welsh Conservative offer for small businesses.

It’s a big claim to want to lead the most small-business friendly government Wales has ever seen, but as we prepare to launch our small business strategy today, we are putting small Welsh firms at the heart of our economic strategy.

Wales – we are so often told – is a nation of small businesses after all, and SMEs make up 98 per cent of all businesses in Wales; providing jobs for more than 524,000 people.

From restaurants, to local shops, builders and pubs, we depend on them totally to make our communities the diverse and vibrant places they are.

Despite their unparalleled importance to the Welsh economy, they are served very poorly when it comes to Welsh Government support. Underrepresented in policy and public procurement, and struggling to access finance – their needs are all too often not met. There isn’t a level playing field for them in terms of business rates and Welsh Government support can at times appear to be skewed in favour of larger firms with less of a vested interest in Wales. That’s certainly the perception of many of the businesses with whom I have met.

Welsh Conservatives have a long standing commitment to supporting our small businesses and we can see that in order for our economy to thrive, we need to make some simple but effective adjustments to the way things are done here in Wales.

A Welsh Conservative Government would place small businesses and their needs at the heart of Welsh Government thinking. We’d do this by establishing a “small business hub” to carry out small business ‘proofing’, which would assess all Welsh Government policies for their impact upon small businesses. Drawn from existing Economy department resources, this dedicated team would report annually to the National Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee – ensuring that the voice of small businesses was at the epicentre of economic development in Wales.

It all comes as part of a comprehensive support package designed to stimulate growth for indigenous small firms.

Small businesses across Wales always say that access to finance is one of their biggest challenges; and can prevent growth. Finance Wales needs major reform – and that’s why Welsh Conservatives want to regionalise, and personalise, access to finance across the nation – making locally-guided decisions on funding awards; stimulating our communities and offering a more accessible, approachable funding source for our small business owners.

Alongside this, we will extend business rate relief. Currently business rate relief extends to businesses with a rateable value of up to £6,000. We would take this further; doubling the threshold to provide business rate relief for all small business with a rateable value of up to £12,000 – tapered thereafter to the value of £15,000.

We will also create a level playing field for our most smallest companies by splitting the Welsh business rates multiplier. At present the business rates system in Wales does not take into consideration the size of a firm, which we believe is unfair. Our plans would set a level playing field on business rates, reducing the amount of taxes paid by smaller firms through a modest increase in the contribution made by our larger firms.

Another key commitment that we have put forward today is to deliver universal broadband and mobile coverage across rural Wales by 2019. We should never underestimate how vital a resource a reliable internet connection is in today’s global market, and if we are to truly champion Welsh businesses, they need to be able to make their presence known online. Currently, however, many businesses in the hinterlands of Wales are unable to do this, putting them at a massive disadvantage.

Firstly, we would reform the planning system for telecommunications infrastructure to make it easier to upgrade existing sites, and to develop new ones – infrastructure is key after all. But there are also a number of ways in which take-up of existing broadband facilities could be improved; take-up of Superfast Cymru has been frustratingly slow, with just 17% of homes with access to superfast broadband having installed it within a year. Just 0.6% of the scheme’s budget has been allocated to demand stimulation.

Ultimately, small businesses are the lifeblood of the Welsh economy – but they need a Government that is prepared to prioritise them, and offer them more support. Wales has the highest vacancy rate of any UK nation – at 15.6%. In Newport – where, today, my Party launches these plans – over a quarter of shops sit vacant. We believe that the Welsh Labour Government are failing to provide our small businesses with the support they need –  and Wales deserves better.

If every small business in Wales took on just one extra member of staff, unemployment in Wales would be wiped out. I’m proud that my Party want to unleash Wales’ entrepreneurial spirit, back those prepared to take a risk; and set a level playing field with a Government that truly is the most small-business friendly administration ever.

Andy Atkinson is Welsh Conservative candidate for Wrexham, and Chairman of the Wrexham Town Centre Forum Steering Group.

6 thoughts on “A new vision for small businesses in Wales?

  1. I totally agree with the sentiment in this article, but here in Llangollen the Conservative Councillor supported the planning application for an out of town supermarket rejected by Sainsbury’s which now stands empty as a white elephant. If occupied this 34,000ft2 unit will endanger the viability and vibrancy of our town centre which currently has a varied offer including a family butchers, two delicatessants and two Greengrocers.

    We have been running a Buy Local campaign on social media to support our locally owned independent businesses which keep money recirculating in the Dee Valley economy not export profits to the affluent South of England. Have the Conservative Party changed their policies to support SMEs rather than Corporates who have no social responsibility to local communities?

  2. The small business is important but it’s only an element of many important aspects that any political party wanting to govern should and must consider.

    Just did a quick review of the Welsh Conservative priorities as published on their website – A long list (See it fully spelled out below) but when you read the small print there is little or nothing of any substance to give anyone some confidence in the party or its leader.

    Surprisingly and noticeable is the missing NHS and Education, but above all nothing to protect the Welsh majority the non-Welsh speakers of granting them the freedom of choice to educate their children through the English Medium education in primary years or to have rights to work in the Welsh Public Sector without having to learn Welsh!

    Any Welsh political party that finds the courage to voice those two issues in the public domain before May election and provide a fair and a workable solution will get a huge support from the Welsh electorate!

    The Tory priorities as they see them now:

    Stronger Futures Cymru / A Blueprint for Cardiff Airport / A Vision for Welsh Housing / A Vision for Welsh High Streets / A Vision for Welsh Agriculture / Invest Wales / Destination Cymru / Consultation on Junk Mail / Welsh Conservative Party European Manifesto – English / Welsh Conservative Party European Manifesto – Welsh / Consultation on fast-track degrees / Welsh Conservative General Election manifesto

  3. These are fine words indeed and must be applauded. Nevertheless, they are just erm…words – as you would expect from a politician seeking office. In any ‘capitalist’ economy, like ours, business is (or should be) driven by demand whether you are a small or large business. If you make something or do something that nobody wants to buy then you should go out of business no matter how ‘entrepreneurial’ or should I say, as they do in my ‘deprived’ area of Wales, fly by nighters (lladron sy’n hedfan yn y nos), you are.
    Time after time after time we hear about so-called ‘entrepreneurs’ swarming like locusts through our fair Nation looking for ‘opportunities’ (and grants) and then doing a runner. It’s a plague! The about to be presidented Donald Trump is a brilliant entrepreneur – a great exemplar! I never liked Hershey bars.
    The comatose Welsh Labour government has been ‘suckered’ by these types over and over again. Politicians of all flavours trot out this ridiculous mantra about the value of entrepreneurs time and time again. Entrepreneurs are NOT the bedrock or drivers of our economy! People are. Similarly there is a crass misunderstanding of the wellsprings of ‘innovation’. Innovation is incremental/accidental not ‘blue sky’.
    I know everyone, including moi, keeps blaming ‘the banks’ and it is totally justified but they are commercial entities and not charities so why lay all the blame there? It’s not the banks, it’s us!
    This is why we need more ‘regulation’ not less! But a different sort of regulation from the entangling Bilderburgesque red tape we currently enjoy being knotted into.
    Solutions? I don’t have any, I’m just a simple punter. However, I’m damned sure that any politician that spouts the words ‘sustainable’, ‘entrepreneur’, ‘innovative’ or ‘level playing field’ ain’t going to get my vote in the May elections!
    Sorry, I’m in a bad mood!

  4. I applaud the sentiment of placing small business development at the heart of economic policy and am heartened to see the ICAEW manifesto calls for resolving the shortfalls in connectivity of the mobile network and making broadband coverage and quality a priority embedded in Welsh Conservative thinking.
    The idea of creating a “small business hub” is interesting but wonder whether this will duplicate or undermine the work of Business Wales where the focus for support is currently. It is surely better to concentrate resource through one agency and to utilise the professional skills of the private sector to make this work rather than develop more generalists within Government.
    Access to Finance is indeed a difficulty for small businesses but the issue relates more to the level of risk lenders are prepared to take rather than the availability of funds. Finance Wales has extended the scope of lending by enabling some of those rejected by commercial banks to find funding but its remit limits its ability to those bigger risks where return is far from guaranteed. Finding the funding to underpin inevitable losses from more risky lending is surely the bigger issue.

  5. Small businesses don’t want any special ‘leg ups’ from Government. Just operating on a level playing field would be great. Paying the same corporation taxes as Google, Starbucks etc would be a great start. Could you ask you party colleagues to organise that ?

  6. Full marks for identifying the need for positive discrimination in favour of small businesses, and the proposed extension of business rate relief is an excellent way of doing that. Upping VAT and simplifying tax are outside the remit for just Wales, but should definitely be part of the U.K. agenda.

    Your contributor who warns against people hoovering up grants for allegedly worthy (but in reality) dubious schemes should be heeded.

    Access to loans and the fees charged for them (fees are the issue, more than interest rates) is a valid area to investigate. Why not think big? A bank of Wales, funded by Welsh bonds and no loan to exceed (say) £50k and 5 years with streamlined but hard-nosed lending policies and practices. Smells of socialism, maybe, but boldness and pragmaticism CAN go hand in hand, sometimes.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy