FSB: Devolution - TSBN

A lifeline for business

aUTUmn 2016 FSB: dEVoLuTIoN small businesses have their say on devolution one of the largest devolution deals to date has been negotiated between the Treasury and the 12 local authorities and three Local Enterprise Partnerships that make up the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). under the proposal, the region receives an estimated 36.5m of funding per year over the next 30 years, and the ability to unlock 8bn of investment. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) believes it is essential that the views of small firms in the West Midlands are considered in the devolution debate, so it has carried out a simple eight-question survey to gauge their opinions. It found that: l 53 per cent of respondents believe the WMCA will benefit the overall economy in the region, but only 31 per cent think it will have a positive impact on small firms Small businesses are already dealing with workplace pension auto enrolment, tax on dividends and the living wage and are telling us they are feeling stretched l 68 per cent felt they had not been well informed about devolution and the WMCA l 68 per cent would not be in favour of the WMCA increasing business rates to fund infrastructure or improve economic growth l 35 per cent said councils should become non-constitutional members of the WMCA, with 20 per cent against and 45 per cent saying they didnt know enough about the issue to have an opinion l 46 per cent of small firms did not support a larger geography to include the East Midlands, while 35 per cent would welcome such a move l 18 per cent of respondents said they wanted to the WMCA to tackle broadband and mobile connectivity, with the same proportion citing business support as a key issue. Road infrastructure (11 per cent), skills (10 per cent), inward investment (eight per cent) and town centres (seven per cent) were also high on the to do list The results of the survey appear to show that small firms do not feel informed enough about devolution, so more needs to be done to ensure they feel included and considered, as the WMCA begins to take shape. Smaller firms have strong feelings about supplementary rates, and do not want to incur any further costs to their business. They are already dealing with workplace pension auto enrolment, tax on dividends and the living wage, and are telling us that they feel stretched. Should the WMCA want to apply an additional levy on businesses, the survey suggests it will struggle to make the economic case for it to small business owners, or convince them of the direct benefits to their firms. Time and again, FSB members raise broadband and mobile connectivity as an issue that stops them running or growing their businesses effectively. The vast majority (94 per cent) consider a reliable internet connection critical to the success of their companies; only 38 per cent of members are satisfied with their broadband connection. The WMCA must look at how it can drive forward the digital agenda and improve connectivity across the West Midlands. It was interesting to see business support included in survey respondents top three priorities. The FSB feels the landscape for this is overcrowded and confusing, and hopes the WMCA can work with councils, growth hubs and local enterprise partnerships to develop a cohesive system of support that is understandable, effective and sustainable, and which adds value. Credit: Karen Woolley Images: MK Jones / Shutterstock Not surprisingly, road infrastructure appeared in the top three issues. Businesses rely on road transport to operate successfully, so functioning highways are vital. The FSB wants the WMCA to look at the regions road network strategically, to ensure existing roads are fit for purpose and new ones are built in conjunction with other modes of transport, such as rail links and airports. This will relieve congestion and offer better access for small businesses in rural and urban areas. For further information please contact your local Trading Standards Service