From the TUC

Government growth plans: you have to laugh, or else you’d cry!

01 Dec 2011, by in Economics

Now that the dust has settled, I’ve spent some time this morning looking through the implementation update of the Government’s Plan for Growth, which was published (the update, not the plan) on the same day as the Autumn Statement. This update is in the form of a grid, listing progress on aspects of the Plan for Growth, in areas such as planning, regulation, access to finance, trade and investment, etc.

Box 12 of this grid, under ‘regulation’ reminds readers that the Government announced in April 2011 that it will not extend the right to request time to train to businesses with fewer than 250 employees, “saving businesses an estimated £350 million a year”. I don’t cover either skills or regulation for the TUC, so whilst this is clearly old news to many, it was new to me. I was, of course, appalled (but not surprised) that even requesting training in SMEs is considered unacceptable.

Reading on, I reached box 24, under ‘trade and investment’, which trumpets the fact that UKTI will deliver a new package of support to help SMEs with an ambition to break into overseas markets. This initiative is called ‘The National Export Challenge – Exporting for Growth’ and it includes web resources to enable firms to swap experiences, a UKTI prize for the best export idea, and a ‘how to’ guide aimed at professional service companies.

I have an interest in this subject, as I’ve just written a report for the TUC looking at industrial policy in Germany, which will be published shortly. Among many other things, my report talks about Germany’s ‘mittelstand’, its network of small and, more often, medium sized companies that is sometimes described as the backbone of the German economy. We don’t have anything similar and the CBI, among others, has spoken recently of the need to grow more small companies into medium sized firms.

So I welcome ‘The National Export Challenge’ and I hope it works. The trouble is, more important than a prize, a website and a ‘how to’ guide, is a company – small, medium or large – made up of talented, ambitious employees, keen to learn, which can make that company more productive, improve the quality of its product and thereby increase its export potential. But employees keen to learn can’t ask for training in a British SME, because we call that a burden.

And we want to compete with Germany? You have to laugh. Otherwise, you’d cry!