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In conversation with Simon Hanson, Development Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses

SMEs have a vital role to play in the success of the North East economy. They support innovation, develop new skills and provide jobs for local people. Creating an environment where they can flourish is key to the success of the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan.

We, at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, believe business support has an important role to play in helping SMEs thrive and grow which is why we work closely with business representative organisations to help shape business and enterprise support, access to finance and encourage inward investment for the North East’s SMEs.

We interviewed Simon Hanson, Development Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses about the role it plays in supporting the North East’s SMEs and his views on the challenges facing our region.

Tell us about the FSB and its role nationally and here in the North East

Our mission is to create the best environment for businesses to start up and thrive. Our success will drive the economy and create jobs. We are member-led, so that we authoritatively protect and champion the interests of nearly 200,000 self-employed people and owners of small firms.

Proud of our independence, we ensure the voice of small business is heard by decision-makers at every level of Government – from a local council right through to Brussels. We are a cross-party, non-partisan organisation, and so we work with councillors, MPs, MEPs, Peers and elected representatives from all major political parties. We campaign, but we also bring our entrepreneurial spirit into our work by proposing practical policy changes and being part of the solution.

More broadly, we support our members at every stage of their business journey. We provide them with market-leading business services from insurance and business banking through to legal and tax advice.

What do you see as the big challenges and opportunities facing the region?

The North East has a number of significant amount of opportunities it can take advantage of. We have world leading businesses across a number of sectors which we can exploit further. The key is to focus on those areas where we can scale these up in key sectors like tech/digital, advanced manufacturing and healthcare. We need to get better at communicating that we are the best region in the UK in these sectors and the potential we have.

The big challenge that our members are facing is the impact that increasing late payments is having on cashflow. The total amount owed to small businesses now stands at £44bn with many waiting at least 8 working weeks beyond payment terms to be paid. Our members are also reporting that finding suitably skilled staff is becoming more challenging. We’re seeing this in the demand for higher level skills and basic skills. This is holding back both business investment and job creation across the region.

Where will the FSB be focusing its efforts in 2015?

We’re focused on getting the issues members have raised for the FSB business manifesto for the General Election listened to and acted on. Broadly our manifesto will help any future Government deliver a sustained economic recovery, rebalance the economy, create high quality jobs and full employment, make all markets work better and lower the cost of business.

Our Manifesto is not a list of ideas that will increase public expenditure. The vast majority require zero cost to the Exchequer; where there are costs, such as investment in infrastructure, these will be more than covered by the long-term economic benefits. We will be hosting business focused hustings event across the North East to ensure our members get their voice heard. After the Election we will be lobbying the new Government to act on the issues raised in our manifesto.

What should your members expect in the run up to the General Election?

They’ll expect a lot of attention from all the candidates vying for a seat in the North East. They know that they are an important source of support for all aspiring MPs and will be courted effusively. For our members the most important thing is that the business issues they are facing are acted on. All candidates can show they understand this and will act on it by backing our #ibacksmallbusiness campaign.

Name one thing that you would like everyone to know about the North East.

We are the best region in the world to start, develop and grow a business in.