Managing director of Tees Valley Unlimited, Stephen Catchpole, talks with Employment Minister Chris Grayling
The Government does not have a magic wand solution for businesses in the current climate, but they are trying to help where they can.
That was the message from Employment Minister Chris Grayling, as he addressed businesspeople at the Tees Valley Unlimited Summit in Stockton.
Mr Grayling opened his keynote address by showing admiration for businesses and entrepreneurs in the Tees Valley region.
He said: “Your businesses are hugely important to the success of the region, and I admire you for your dedication. I know running a business means long hours and hard work, and the future is bright because of entrepreneurs like you.
“We are taking a number of steps nationally that are aimed at helping your businesses; including, for example, cuts to corporation tax, streamlining of business regulations and on a local level, the work of the LEPs.”
The audience of business owners were encouraged to take advantage of the Government’s apprenticeship schemes, as the Minister remarked: “fundamentally it is a pretty cheap way to get someone who can really help you in your business.”
Elsewhere, Mr Grayling addressed access to finance for SMEs, and said banks needed to be coerced into lending effectively.
He suggested that recent Government measures to effectively underwrite lending from banks to SMEs would instigate further lending.
Bdaily spoke to Mike Layfield, relationship director at Barclays North East, who said the bank must take current criticism, but reassured businesses that Barclays is still “there on the frontlines” and wants to engage with them.
He said: “The thing that concerns me the most, is that people are probably put off, and think there is no point in contacting a bank. But if we didn’t lend any money, we wouldn’t be here.
“We’re supporting the Government’s incentives, but what we really want to do is make people better prepared for going into a bank and asking for money.
“Customers want us to really understand their business and strategies, and there is no other way to do this than to visit them and spend time kicking the tires, so to speak.”
Later in the speech, referring to suggestions that the Government’s much publicised Work Programme was not working, Mr Grayling dismissed his political opponents as “doom mongers”, and said the latest data on the programme released this week proved positive.
Bdaily asked Mr Grayling if he thought the scheme could be abused by employers looking for free labour, to which he denied, saying there was no value in doing so for the employer.
An audience member asked Mr Grayling what measures the Government were taking to support more mature workers who might have faced redundancy, not just younger unemployed people.
He responded: “It’s a very good point, I think the Government’s Enterprise allowances, which are designed to get over 50s to set up their own businesses, will help here.
“I think many people at this age, perhaps when the children have left home, and they find themselves out of work, are ideal candidates to start a business.”
The Enterprise Allowance scheme provides advice and mentoring, and a small loan, as candidates are allowed to claim benefits for the first few weeks of their business start up.
Following Mr Grayling’s speech, Bdaily spoke to Stephen Catchpole, managing director of Tees Valley Unlimited, who suggested the summit had served as a focusing mechanism for businesses to get together, and voice their opinions while also exploring new connections and opportunities.
He said: “We have two key purposes, the first is to create prosperity, which we equate to jobs, and the second is to make sure the population here has the skills to be able to take those jobs.
“Chris Grayling’s challenge in a sense, and our challenge back to him, is how to we tackle that first march, which is primarily about young people, but also about older workers getting those skills.
“We’ve put in a large RGF bid around apprenticeships, if that’s successful, we’d want to see that implemented as soon as possible, and if it’s not successful, of course we need to come up with other ways of doing this. We will still have the challenge of getting people in this area back into work.
“That momentum behind getting big employers together because they want to influence the skills agenda, in a way that’s much more hands on than they’ve done in the past - particularly if there is then spin-off benefits for the supply chain and the small companies - that’s the type of thing we need to build on.”