Champions Round Table
Small Business Support
With the UK’s Brexit deal in chaos, business across North East Derbyshire remain in limbo, with many reported to be reluctant to plan or spend amidst the uncertainty.
Exporters befitted briefly from the surge in the pound following the Commons vote of no confidence last month, however business owners were left scratching their heads as to what happens next.
Many big businesses have suspended spending and put a hold on decision making until there is clarity around Brexit. The repercussions down the supply chain are being felt however and with SMEs making up 99% of all businesses both nationally and locally, getting answers and a firm decision on Brexit is top of many small business’ wish list.
Occurring the day after the Brexit vote, this month’s round table was hosted by East Midlands Chamber and organised by organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times. It brought together representatives from small businesses and education providers in Chesterfield to discuss support available for SMEs; and they weren’t short of things to talk about.
AB – Ashley Booker – Head of Content, Derbyshire Times
KK – Krys Kamenou – Director, Juxta-Post Media
AW – Adrian Williamson – Innovation Support Project Manager, Chesterfield Borough Council
DH – David Higham – Commercial Director, Chesterfield College
AH – Amy Hallam – Director, BRM Solicitors
JD – Joanna Dawson – Solicitor, Dawson Radford
BC – Bev Crighton – External Engagement Lead, University of Derby
CH – Chris Hull – Juniper Training Chesterfield
How do we support Chesterfield and North Derbyshire businesses through the process of Brexit?
AW – I think the problem is that there is not enough information about exactly what we are doing at a very basic level, so it makes it very difficult to plan for a particular occurrence. There is information about some of the things that might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit, but any type of deal hasn’t been made clear. It’s the detail we need.
JD – I think there is a lot of Brexit anxiety and very much a fear of change and the unknown.
KK – I’m finding that not many businesses are wanting to dedicate themselves to the extra things a business can have such as photography, videography and social media. Nobody really wants to sign on a dotted line for a longer-term arrangement until they know what’s happen.
AH –To support SMEs in Chesterfield, we need to make sure we understand any announcements or deals made fully. As a lawyer, I am in the fortunate position of being able to can cut through the legal jargon and translate it into layman’s terms quite quickly for businesses.
AW – East Midlands Chamber has produced a checklist of different aspects of Brexit, including skills, trading abroad and lots more. However, it’s still that last bit of detail we need about what’s really going to happen that is the most relevant.
BC – We have a lot of European funding bids that are supporting small businesses and we are getting asked things like, ‘is that going to stop immediately?’ and ‘have you got any more money?’. The simple answer is ‘yes’. We’re still bidding on European money and are still getting European money. There’s also a lot of other funding bids available. The object when we get funding is to ensure it’s sustainable so, even if some funding stops, not all of the programmes will stop.
DH – What small businesses need is stability and the government is not giving us that at present. But, as organisations that support small businesses in this town, we need to provide them with as much stability as we can.
What are the key areas of support that small businesses are looking for in 2019?
DH – For us, it’s the usual – skills. In North East Derbyshire the majority of employers are small employers and there are a high proportion of manufacturing employers. But there is an issue with ageing workforces. We’ve got a big gap between people with lots of experience in the manufacturing sector to those that have been trained but don’t have any experience.
JD – It’s a similar story with law. There are people that have been qualified for years and then people that are newly qualified, but there is nothing in between.
AH – One thing we’ve noticed is that employees are becoming increasingly interested in whether a company has a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policy. Many people won’t join a business if they haven’t got a CSR policy in place.
BC – Graduates aren’t looking to stay in a job for life; they might only stay for a couple of years. Businesses need to accept that and keep recruitment going. Educating small businesses about how to retain young talent is a focus for the university.
AH – It can be simple things, like a cycle-to-work scheme, a fruit bowl in the office for instance, but they really do make a difference when it comes to recruitment and retaining staff.
BC – When I first joined the University, we had to look at how to get students jobs. It’s changed now and it’s actually the students’ market.
KK – For me, running my business from home can send me a bit stir-crazy. I think it would be great if we had something like a bi-monthly forum – just something where people in similar positions could connect one-to-one.
BC – We run something similar at Derby and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same here. We’ll certainly look into that to see if that’s something we can offer.
AH – I think it is useful for people to be able to get out of the house, speak to people and work in an environment with others.
How can schools, colleges and universities get young people ready for the world of work beyond giving them qualifications?
AH – One thing we see a lot with some students is that they don’t have basic office etiquette, like making a cup of tea or answering a phone properly, because it’s just not taught.
BC – We’ve been asking businesses what they’d want people on work experience to be doing so we can get our students ready for that. On the lead up to the work experience, we will train the students so when they are in the workplace they can do the things required of them. This means when businesses have people sick or on holiday, they can phone us and we can act as a temp agency with our students ready to cover people.
AH – We’ve found that when we work with universities such as the University of Derby, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Beckett, they’ve adapted to employers. However, when we work with more traditional universities, they are still doing things the old-fashioned way and it’s a lot more theory-based which doesn’t translate well to the work environment.
DH – We’ve got T-Levels coming in and the students on them will need to go on work placements in order to get their qualification. The struggle for us is going to be finding the businesses where the students can get that experience.
BC – We’ve found sharing the students’ work experience across different small businesses is a great way to help the student and the business. We’ve got some interns working out of four or five businesses, maybe one day each per week, and that can be quite a nice way of doing it. The student gets different experiences and the business gets somebody who has experience working with other businesses.
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.
The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent Board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
For more information about becoming a Chesterfield Champion, visit https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/destination-chesterfield/champions/sign-up/