The Mean View – SMEs shouldn’t be the UK’s forgotten army

By Ian Mean, Business West Gloucestershire Director
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I make no excuse for returning to the importance of SMEs — the small, medium-sized enterprises which I regard as the true lifeblood of our economy here in this region.

In my last column, I referred to SMEs as the forgotten army of our economy.

And as the government grapples with Brexit with what appears to be a total ignorance of the issues that affect these SMEs, my views are compounded by the mess created by the politicians.

“Engineering underpins everything — food manufacturing, making cars, chemicals, quarries – everything is underpinned with engineering”

Most businesses would go bust if they handled their affairs in such an appalling fashion.

Typical of our SMEs fighting the good fight for survival is Grail Engineering, a traditional engineering company I visited recently in the Forest of Dean.

Julian Grail is senior manager of this classic SME at Cinderford, which employs 45 people and has a turnover of around £3 million. “I believe that manufacturing is still a key part of the economy,” he tells me as he proudly introduces me to Ryan Heath, 21, who had just won the AMI UK Manufacturing Apprentice 2018 award. “Engineering underpins everything – food manufacturing, making cars, chemicals, quarries – everything is underpinned by engineering. “Engineering is absolutely vital to this country.”

He is so right.

But when is the government going to realise that traditional engineering companies like Grail with superb local skills really do matter?

“We are now in a service-dominated economy and I believe engineering has been under-rated,” says Julian

“It was the service economy, along with the bankers, that caused the last recession.

“We have traded before Brexit and we will trade after it. Germany is not going to stop selling us cars and the French will still want to sell us wine.”

Julian left school at 16 and came into the business as a trainee. On the back of an apprenticeship he was able to go to university and study mechanical engineering at the University of the West of England.

He is proud of Ryan, his award-winning apprentice.

“It gives me great pride that there are small businesses like us in the Forest of Dean who can train young people,” adds Julian.

“We have produced more than 50 apprentices here and many have gone on to very good jobs.”

Government take note. Our SMEs need more help and clarity over the confusion of the levy in order to be encouraged to take on more apprentices.

They are failing lamentably at the moment to support SMEs like Grail

which really are the key to the growth of our national economy.

Brexit must not get in the way.

Ian Mean

Pictured: Ian Mean