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FSB calls for LEPs to overhaul regional SME support

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) wants Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to forge ahead with changes to the way business support is provided to drive SME growth.

Backed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW), the FSB published a report which recognises the important role played by LEPs in facilitating well-targeted business support and its significance to the UK economy in delivering future growth.

However, the report also demonstrates areas of weakness that LEPs should address in order to strengthen the business support system for small business owners.

Based on evidence supplied by the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), the report suggests the current support service is often ineffective, putting the brakes on the growth prospects of businesses across England.

The key issues cited as problem areas include the fragmented nature of the offering itself, with too many schemes in place without enough critical mass behind it to make an effective contribution.

The FSB believes the report highlights the real potential of LEPs working alongside newly-formed ‘Growth Hubs’, with their combined ability to understand their local economies and adapt to the needs of their business communities.

John Allan, national chairman, FSB, said: “This report highlights the great potential of LEPs to energise small firms in England – but only if the right steps are taken to improve the design and delivery of business support.

“This could be achieved by cutting duplication, better co-ordination of support at the local level, and robustly evaluating schemes on their effectiveness.

“The FSB therefore calls for LEPs to work with newly formed ‘Growth Hubs’, and make improvements to local business support an absolute priority.

“99 per cent of all UK firms are small businesses, so growing those firms through better business support can make a real difference to local economies, helping in the rebalancing of growth outside London and the South East.

“Growth currently compares well with other G7 countries, but the economy lags noticeably in key areas such as our exporting performance and labour productivity.

“There is no ‘magic bullet’ solution that will work across the country, because every locality has unique needs that individual LEPs must satisfy.

“But a long-term approach based on proper evaluation of initiatives, co-ordinating plans nationally and focusing on fewer, more targeted initiatives will all work to raise business performance.”

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