Small-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of our economy.

THE MEAN VIEW by Ian Mean
Ian Mean

And SMEs in the UK employ around 59 per cent of the workforce in this country and contribute something like 51 per cent of the nation’s GDP.

So, against this national picture, it is not surprising that the majority of businesses across the region are small – employing up to nine people.

Take Gloucestershire as an example. There are around 28,295 businesses in the county supporting a well-qualified and highly skilled workforce of about 289,400 people.

Putting the importance of SMEs into perspective, the number of larger businesses employing 250 plus people is just 100, equating to 0.4 per cent.

Gloucestershire is where Sir Frank Whittle’s jet engine was developed and many of these small businesses have been integral to the county’s reputation for cutting edge precision engineering.

Manufacturing has declined, but there are still many SMEs delivering world-class engineering, particularly for aerospace companies like Airbus.

Perhaps you might be surprised to know that health services and hospitals now employ the largest number of people in Gloucestershire.

I am very much a follower of former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s mantra of encouraging what he called: “the march of the makers”.

A lot of these SMEs still make things, that’s how this county became a world leader in precision manufacturing.
And while world competition has made many of our small companies uncompetitive, we must ensure that we do everything we can to help and encourage their birth and survival.

It is easy to ignore SMEs. Many are working all the hours God sends.

Many have little time to train an apprentice and many are unable to grasp the bigger picture.

I believe SMEs are our forgotten army.

When the government can stop arguing about Brexit, they need to urgently look at supporting our small businesses far more.

And I believe this support should be a key plank of the local Industrial Strategies which the government has asked all Local Enterprise Partnerships to produce over the next year.

I make no excuses for quoting Professor John Oliver in his forward to LEADing Small Business (a real bible for SMEs co-authored by Stewart Barnes, founder and managing director of QuoLux):

“Running a successful small-medium enterprise (SME) is no picnic. For those in charge it can be a hostile and often lonely environment.

“Surviving and staying afloat is challenging enough. The marketplace presents difficulties and opportunities that may lead to growth where growth in turn demands change. Change too early and you could end up with excessive overhead and waste. Change too late and you risk losing competitiveness.”