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02 July 2015

Acute skills shortage hurting growth

– confused, supplier-led funding increasing the challenge –

An acute skills shortage is the biggest barrier to economic growth according to a panel of politicians and business leaders brought together by professional services membership organisation, Coventry & Warwickshire First.

This barrier is compounded by the confusion surrounding funding and grant support, which when properly understood and effectively accessed catalyses growth.

The panel voiced its opinion in front of an audience of business people in Rugby on Friday 26 June.

Martin Gibbs, Chair of Coventry & Warwickshire First and Senior Partner at Dafferns Chartered Accountants said: “During the financial crisis and the immediate aftermath public and private investment in skills was cut. Seven years later this has resulted in a challenging skills shortage.

“Jaguar Land Rover and others are phenomenal and extremely valuable success stories within our region. They have driven our economic growth. But an unfortunate side effect is the impact on the availability of skills. Small and medium sized engineering firms, the lifeblood of Coventry and Warwickshire, are struggling to attract and retain key skills in the face of the allure of these exciting and successful global businesses. Addressing this challenge is essential if the region is going to continue growing.”

Glenn Bourne, Vice Chair of the Rugby Branch of the Chamber of Commerce and Managing Director of FRS-STAFFSOLUTIONS, said: “Whilst apprenticeships are key and will have a positive long-term effect on the skills shortage, the government must also recognise that smaller SMEs not only need support in delivering these programmes on a day-to-day basis, but also making longer-term employment more affordable and not becoming blinkered by the very large ‘skills hoovers’ that can dominate their thinking.”

The inability to access finance was raised during the debate as an ongoing challenge. The Coventry & Warwickshire Growth Hub was set up to simplify what was a complicated and disjointed business support landscape and as Craig Humphrey, Managing Director of The Growth Hub, explained there is plenty of funding available but accessing the right package is not always straightforward.

“Grants and funding for capital investment drive growth by giving businesses the stability and continuity they need, but the support available is confused and supplier-led,” said Craig. “Our goal at the Growth Hub is to make it easier for businesses to understand what’s available and find the solution that suits them. We draw together the different threads so businesses can navigate the complicated funding landscape.”

The changing political landscape was also addressed during the debate; the looming in / out referendum on Europe and the potential impact of the West Midlands Combined Authority.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty in relation to both these issues and business hates uncertainty,” said Martin Gibbs. “Things were beginning to move forward with confidence. We definitely don’t want investment decisions put on hold in the face of this uncertainty and our local economy to slow down as a result. We have to have the debate, settle these issues sooner rather than later and move on.”

The panel comprised Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby; Michael Stokes, Leader of Rugby Borough Council; Andrew Smith, Partner at law firm Shakespeares Martineau; Glenn Bourne, Vice Chair of the Rugby Branch of the Chamber of Commerce and Managing Director of a recruitment and staffing business; Craig Humphrey, Managing Director of the Coventry & Warwickshire Growth Hub; and local economist Myles Mackie. Martin Gibbs, Senior Partner of Dafferns Chartered Accountants, chaired the debate.

Run by its members for its members Coventry & Warwickshire First is the only forum exclusively for professional and financial services firms in the region.

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