According to the Federation of Small Businesses, the workforce in Greater Manchester numbers around 1.4 million, with the region home to around 105,000 businesses. Of these, 86,000 are classed as micro businesses (employing fewer than 10 people), 15,000 are small (10-49 staff), 3,400 medium (50-249), and 600 large (250+).
The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector evidently forms the backbone of the Greater Manchester economy. Its success therefore governs how many jobs are created, which in turn influences economic growth and prosperity. As a small business owner, I think I understand more than most what needs to happen here.
The main areas that need addressing are:
• Education and skills. Local educational institutions need to make sure they supply the functional (literacy, numeracy and communication skills), digital and employability skills that businesses need. The better these skills are, the more confidence our businesses will have in hiring young people. Proper careers advice and direction for 14-18 year olds are also vital so they understand their opportunities.
• Apprenticeships. The current system isn’t working as it’s confusing and poorly-regulated. Large variations in quality have led to uncertainty amongst employers. We need to guarantee every 18 year old the chance of an apprenticeship in their chosen field, linked to a newly-affiliated organisation that’s responsible for quality. Apprenticeships delivered in Manchester must have this stamp of quality if our local businesses are to have faith in them.
• Local enterprise. We need to make Manchester the UK’s number one place to start a business. Young people leaving university are increasingly risk-averse due to the crippling debts incurred by tuition fees and living costs. To counter this, we need to set up a new grant funding scheme for youth businesses.
• Local procurement. Encouraging people to purchase local goods and services will help protect jobs in our region.
• Listening to local business communities. By working closely with bodies like the Federation of Small Businesses and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, we can listen to local businesses and understand their needs.
As we compete for investors and entrepreneurs to choose Manchester to start and develop their businesses, there’s an urgent need for a proactive approach to enterprise. Without it, they’ll simply go elsewhere to other cities or, even worse, other countries. We need to define what the Northern Powerhouse actually is – and we need to make sure its capital is Manchester.
We have to take a 25-year, long term look at where we’re heading, which will require substantial investment in transport infrastructure and digital strategy. It’s always wise to take the time to plan and then communicate what’s happening to all parties. If our business community has an element of certainty for the future and they can see things are starting to happen, they’ll invest in that future and buy into our ideology.
From a personal point of view, a development zone that centres on and encourages the UK’s Green Economy could be a vital means of differentiating Manchester from other cities. I don't rule out the possibility of the city taking a stake-holding in large projects that encourage micro and macro electricity generation, as we plan our way towards self-sustainability and environmental autarky.
With regards to spending money, we need to start differentiating between investment and cost. Building and supplying the things Manchester needs is an investment that, if done correctly, will filter through to a future return on investment for our local economy. Papering over the cracks, such as poor repairs on our roads, will always be a cost