Across Somerset and Wiltshire over 99% of more than 50,000 businesses are classed as ‘small’ and 90% are micro, employing less than 9 members of staff.
The rural landscape and extensive geographic spread of both counties, populated by market towns, with an infrastructure of ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads means that there are a number of issues that particularly affect businesses in our region. We chose the Bath and West Show to bring these issues to the attention of the political parties ahead of the General Election.
Business rates affect the make-up of our business communities, creating empty spaces on our High Streets. We are asking the Government to create an independent review taking politics out of the process, in order to design a new system.
Many businesses across our region struggle with broadband speed and mobile connectivity. We are asking the Government to commit to the delivery of an ambitious Universal Service Obligation that treats connectivity as a utility, which will be reviewed regularly in line with business demand and technological advancements.
Many employers are struggling to grow their businesses as they are unable to fill vacancies. This is two-fold. Low unemployment means there is a finite labour market available. The skills drain of young people leaving our rural areas to work and study in towns and cities means that it’s difficult to recruit skilled staff. There are many conditions that impact this situation, including ability to recruit foreign labour; the apprenticeship system and the question of whether Somerset and Wiltshire should have a University presence to address higher level skills. There are also wider issues such as availability of low cost housing and transport infrastructure.
There are many more issues which we continue to discuss including bank branch closures, and of course the need for a small business friendly Brexit. These issues and more are at the forefront of our campaigning.