...skills and business rates to help their growth
A survey of leaders from medium-sized businesses (MSBs), by Grant Thornton UK LLP, reveals that ahead of Autumn Statement their top priorities for city devolution are budgets and control for local transport (59%), training (52%) and business rates (44%).
MSBs' wishlist for infrastructure investment also reflects these priorities, with a focus on better access to education and training (70%), improved broadband (59%) and improved road links (57%), particularly reducing congestion.
In addition, they have made it clear that more international services from local airports, rather than London, would help unlock growth (77% vs.19%), together with better transport links to their local airports.
Of concern was that 31% of respondents had no knowledge of what a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) was and that only 7% felt that their LEP fully understood their business.
Commenting on the results, Robert Hannah, Board Member for the Regions, Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: "George Osborne is expected to focus on enabling the 'Northern Powerhouse' in the upcoming Autumn Statement and these results are a clear indication from business that to help make this happen there needs to be a focus on three key issues; skills training, international air routes from regional airports and improved inter-city road and rail links across the northern cities.
"Whilst overall the transport priority for business is roads, and the reduction of congestion, when focusing in, 81% of businesses in the north said that building a trans-Pennine railway linking the northern cities should be the government's top priority for rail investment. Around 80% saw the main benefit of this as creating a larger travel to work area which would enable them to access a bigger labour market.
"The findings also show that the airport debate should be refocused away from London as business is saying loud and clear that international flights from local airports is what they want. Manchester Airport is currently only running at 50% capacity and yet increasing international flights from there would really boost business trade, providing direct access to global markets.
"Accessing the right skills remains in the top spot as the greatest barrier to business and they want powers and budgets for training and apprenticeships devolved. Businesses locally also need to take a more active role and engage with schools, apprenticeships are proven to help and we have been calling for government to scrap National Insurance Contributions for all apprentices. "There is also significant appetite for business rates to be set at a local level with all revenue retained, which would as a result give authorities tangible incentive to promote business growth. This was not a part of the recent Manchester package, but it is clearly something that government needs to look at again.
"Businesses have told us that they see the benefits of more joined up local strategies that support business growth, but that this must avoid the creation of more bureaucracy and additional costs. As Autumn Statement nears, the needs of dynamic medium-sized businesses need to be taken into account by government. They have continually contributed a disproportionately large amount to the UK economy and job market, and policy makes need to do more to unlock their further potential."