The National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses (FSB) says the figures show that, despite the challenge of meeting the demands of the National Living Wage, small businesses are continuing to create employment, which suggests future job growth will be strong. However, due to larger overheads and lower profits, these businesses are feeling the strain, which could potentially stunt future job growth. In order for SME job creation to continue, small businesses need more help from their local authority. One way councils can help sustain local future job growth is by supporting their SMEs through the timely provision of business advice and support. Time is a precious commodity for most small business owners, with many working at least 13 more hours than the UK average working week of 37 – which means that appropriate support facilities should be readily available at a time that suits individual circumstances. Delivering these services digitally may be the best way for councils and local enterprise teams to effectively reach and support small businesses in their areas and contribute to future job growth. Budget cuts have left many local authorities with no option but to reduce personnel numbers which slows down, and in some cases, halts, service provision. However, it is important that councils realise the longer term opportunity startups and existing small firms present. Supporting these businesses can help facilitate and boost future job growth in their communities. In addition, authorities will directly reap the benefits of local economy growth as they will retain 100 per cent of all business rates from 2020, an additional incentive to act now. A web-based business advice platform, for example, can be set up on public sector run computers such as in libraries, and linked to other support services, facilitating access to free business advice to residents, business owners, schools as well as voluntary and community organisations. When integrated onto a local authority website, it can provide users with access to the vital resources and support they need remotely, as and when they need it. In addition, virtual hubs on these platforms can be used to mobilise the influence, collective intelligence and energy of local people and drive future job growth. Digital, combined with more traditional offline methods such as business centres, could foster more collaboration and engagement between individuals and groups, leading to better social outcomes and opportunities for local authorities to make significant savings. A recent report by Nesta argues that digital tools can help councils to reform and provide information, networking and business opportunities to local companies through online platforms, and use data to tailor business support. It suggests that digital technologies can complement traditional local approaches to economic growth. For example, measures involving taxation, business support and sub-regional governance arrangements like Local Enterprise Partnerships. SME owners should implore their local authorities to invest in digital technologies and councils must make sure that services such as business advice and support are accessible to all, to mitigate the risks of digital exclusion. Additionally, councils must ensure that pathways between different services and mediums are seamless, and that people with varying needs are prioritised appropriately.
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