Ease red tape burden on firms plea

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SMALL businesses should have “a fairer opportunity” to tender for public sector contracts and the “regulatory burdens” on them need to be eased, the national chairman of the Federation for Small Businesses has said.

John Walker also pledged his support to the Yorkshire Post’s Buy Yorkshire campaign, ahead of the annual conference of the FSB in Scarborough, which starts today.

Our campaign encourages Yorkshire businesses to ‘think local’ whenever they need to buy goods and services to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) win valuable new contracts and strengthen the region’s supply chains. It also calls for a shake-up of public sector procurement rules for SMEs.

Mr Walker, who was born in York, said: “We support very much Yorkshire businesses buying within Yorkshire. We ran a Keep Trade Local Campaign which is still on our books, trying to encourage businesses to trade locally, keep the money in the local economy and it helps the merry-go-round. If somebody needs a product or service it’s better to go to a local business as it keeps local employment going.”

Mr Walker welcomed the Government’s target for 25 per cent of central government contracts by value to be awarded to SMEs. However, he added: “We would certainly want to see local councils following that and the NHS.

“One of the problems with local government procurement... [is that] central government says to local government, you’ve got to aggregate contracts with your neighbours to reduce costs, and on the other hand they say they want small businesses to be able to tender for local government contracts.

“We realise that local councils have a duty to the council taxpayer to ensure they are not trading with people who are not going to deliver the goods, but we feel that councils could make greater effort to place more contracts locally.”

Earlier this month, the Government announced further measures to support SMEs to win Government business, a year after an initial raft of measures was announced. Key measures included new commitments from large private sector players, as well as the introduction of set breakpoints in IT contracts so there is less money locked into large lengthy contracts. The Government said it will look to “disaggregate future contracts and deliver flexible, cheaper solutions”.

Speakers at the FSB conference this week include Business Secretary Vince Cable, who has backed Buy Yorkshire, and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. The conference will also be used as an opportunity to highlight the FSB’s Real-Life Entrepreneurs campaign.

Mr Walker said: “We decided last year that there’s a lot of people investing a lot of time and risk in being an entrepreneur and we feel that they are often unrecognised apart from on some of these well-known television programmes.

“But we are not talking about celebrity entrepreneurs, we are talking about the people who are grafting away, working long hours, risking the family home often to get the borrowing that they need, and if the government’s going to be placing a lot of emphasis on the small business sector to get the economy going, then more recognition of the concerns and needs of entrepreneurs should be taken into account, particularly on areas like regulation.”

He added: “The government on the one hand wants to have a thriving entrepreneurial business community, but on the other hand, they keep on putting the brakes on by increasing regulation.

“We say that the two don’t always go together.

“We’re looking at employment law in particular, environment law, health and safety, we are not in favour of polluting the planet and unsafe building sites but what we are calling for is to have some measure of fairness towards our members.”

Mr Walker also said the FSB continues to lobby the banks “to ensure they are making the necessary finance available”.