The Minister for Small Business, Margot James, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Elizabeth Truss were told by business leaders from across Greater Manchester of the invaluable support provided by the Hub, the most successful regional growth hub in the UK.
Part of the Growth Company, the Hub provides a wide range of services for start-up and growing businesses, including mentoring, training, marketing support and help accessing international markets and finance. Funded by the European Union, the Hub's future post-Brexit remains uncertain.
During a lively discussion, Ministers heard from business leaders on what needed to be done to tackle the scale-up gap. The UK is one of the most successful countries in the world at creating start-ups, but only ranked 13th in its ability to scale them.
Emphasising the key role that the Hub was playing in helping address the scale-up challenge, business leaders sought assurances on its long-term future.
Informed Solutions Group CEO Elizabeth Vega, who is also a member of the Cabinet Office SME panel and Scale-Up Institute, said the Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub was highly effective in leveraging Manchester's strong heritage of industry and innovation, encouraging aspiration and building a strong networking culture.
“The strength of the Northern Powerhouse is in the rich collaboration between business leaders and the Hub helps nurture this,” she said. “They help connect a lot of people and this is something businesses really value. We know that for every pound invested in support for Greater Manchester companies, we’re getting an economic return of £4.65, so they provide excellent value.
“There is a strong government narrative around the UK's scale-up agenda but we need more practical support to build an ecosystem that supports the next tier. When we talk about lessons learned, it’s often referring to what went wrong – but we should be focusing on what’s working well. We shouldn’t wait until decline sets in before we do a post-mortem.”
She also suggested that Government could do more to encourage companies to invest in the growing skills gap and high level skills needed for growth in the digital economy.
“Many industries are facing a skills shortage and it would be a good idea for an industrial strategy that provides tax incentives for business to invest in high value skills,” she said. “That way it would be more of an incentive to train staff rather than aggressively poach skilled people from other companies, which is a further disincentive to train to a high standard and is what’s happening at the moment.”
Responding to the panel’s comments, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Elizabeth Truss said, “The challenge we have as a country is how do we raise our productivity. We know we can do more to help exciting and ambitious businesses develop and grow.”
The Minister for Small Business, Margot James, was warm in her praise for the "inspiring entrepreneurs and the Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub" and said afterwards that she had enjoyed meeting and listening to entrepreneurs' journeys.
Elizabeth Vega speaking to the Minister for Small Business, Margot James.