A new report has warned that the government's levelling-up agenda will fall short unless more is done to provide business advice to smaller firms.
Open for Business, a report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), has found significant gaps in business support for small firms and the self-employed. The report has looked at how business support advice was used by small firms during the pandemic; it has found that while it helped some, others were left with little support.
The findings show that:
- 84% of small firms received some sort of business support advice during the pandemic;
- But only 45% of small firms say the advice they received helped their business survive the pandemic;
- And most sole traders said that business support advice for them was not helpful.
Martin McTague, FSB national vice chair, said: "We've endured almost 18 months of this terrible pandemic which has wreaked economic chaos for small businesses all over the country. That's why the support and advice available to them has never been more important.
"If small firms are to compete on fair terms with larger businesses, if regions are to step out of the shadows and if all businesses can thrive after the pandemic, then an element of levelling up is critical to success. Even when times are good, gaining access to the right support at the right time can be tricky."
The FSB says improving support for SMEs must be part of the next Spending Review - because small firms are found in every local community, they are crucial to balancing-up productivity, innovation, jobs and opportunities across towns and rural areas as well as cities.
"For too many, knowing where to look, who to speak to and what to do leads to a dead end and that needs to change," said McTague. "Every day, small firms ask themselves how can I manage my debt? How can we achieve Net Zero without breaking the bank? Or how can I attract more staff? It's these sorts of questions where the right advice can make huge differences.
"Our findings show that existing business support advice already helps small firms when it comes to taxation and regulation, but as our post-EU journey continues and while we continue to weather the economic COVID-19 storm, there is plenty more government could be doing to help make things easier."
The FSB is calling on the government to simplify and streamline how and where small firms can access critical business support advice, building on what currently works. "You can only level up local economies by backing small businesses … If the right advice can be accessible to all, then small businesses can thrive, our economy can bounce back and everyone benefits," said McTague.
Written by Rachel Miller.