What does Levelling-up mean for business?

The government’s announcement of long-awaited plans to close the gap between rich and poor parts of the country have been met with a mixed response by businesess.

The strategy, unveiled in a white paper by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, will take until 2030 and aims to improve services such as education, broadband and transport. He said it would “shift both money and power into the hands of working people”.

One of the first to respond was UK Business Forums whose founder and CEO, Richard Osborne, warned that what’s most important to small businesses, is that “these are not just ideas that never come into fruition”.

He said: “Whilst I question whether some of the areas that have been pinpointed for most support are really those that are most lacking opportunities and prosperity, small businesses in the UK must soon receive tangible benefits and support if we are to see any hope of reviving our high streets and strengthening the backbone of the UK economy.

“Without question, small and micro businesses have been failed by the Government and the aim that the ‘national missions’ will be achieved by 2030 will be far too late for many of them.

“Support has been too little and too late, and the real measure of the value of this White Paper is the actual and timely delivery of the Levelling Up agenda. Let’s hope, for the sake of the UK’s small businesses, that this is not another talking shop.”

Without targeted investment in reskilling those in affected roles, automation could lead to job losses, making the economic disparity in particular regions even more pronounced

John Rogers, VP of Faethm AI at Pears, said: “This whitepaper gives us an insight into what ‘levelling up’ really means from a policy perspective. Infrastructure investment is undoubtedly essential to give Britain’s regions their fair shot at economic growth and prosperity, but funding skills training is key if the UK as a whole is to become a high skill, high wage economy.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

“As it stands, technology adoption and innovation could exacerbate the divide between different regions of the country over the next five years, with differing impacts from area to area. For example, 13.5 per cent of Wales’ workforce could be affected by the adoption of technology by manufacturing employers, while London is more likely to be affected by automation in the finance sector  – 19.5 per cent of finance work has a high propensity to be automated and this is reflective of over 60,000 workers.

“Without targeted investment in reskilling those in affected roles, automation could lead to job losses, making the economic disparity in particular regions even more pronounced, or creating a surplus of workers with skillsets that are no longer in demand.”

Paul Christensen, CEO of Previse,  said that, as SMEs form 99 per cent of the UK private sector and account for over three-fifths of total employment, “it is clear that addressing their liquidity challenges must form a central role in the government’s levelling up agenda”.

Colin Fitzgerald
Colin Fitzgerald: age-old story of North-South divide

He added: “Unlike large corporates which have the financial firepower to adapt to rising inflation, the increasingly hostile trading environment is pushing small businesses to breaking point.

“Measures in the Levelling Up White Paper such as the Shared Prosperity Fund do not go far enough in solving the very real cash flow problems that SMEs face – like long payment timeframes and low accessibility to finance.

“Failure to tackle these challenges risks thousands of businesses closures, taking with them jobs and investment which are needed more than ever as the economy seeks to ‘level up’.”

Research published by Legal & General Group Protection today suggests that workers in the North have much lower opinions about how well their employers look after their wellbeing compared to their southern counterparts.

It found that just 59 per cent of SME employees there believed their employer actively looked after their wellbeing, compared to 88 per cent of those based in the south.

But employers overall were far more confident that they supported the wellbeing of their staff. In the north, the figure was 83 per cent while in the south, it stood at 91 per cent.

Colin Fitzgerald, Distribution Director, said: “The need for workplace wellbeing is universal, yet our research shows that when it comes to wellbeing it appears that the age-old north/south divide is very much present.

“Employers that don’t have wellbeing either already embedded or as a priority to address are missing out on new talent as well as impacting on the effectiveness of their existing workforce. In an employee’s market – where the demand for talent is fast outstripping supply – this should be of serious cause for concern for employers.”

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024