Personally Speaking - Small Businesses

Business sometimes suffers from a poor reputation. We all see the occasional news story about the poor behaviour of a multinational firm, or a tech giant not paying its fair share of tax. Sometimes, however, it is easy to overlook how important businesses are to our everyday lives, and what a positive contribution these make to society in general. Businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy in Stoke-on-Trent, creating jobs, attracting investment and making our communities more prosperous.


Without businesses, who would pay people’s salaries, and where would the money come from to fund the public services on which we all rely? Businesses help to create jobs for our city and locally we have seen the number of people on unemployment benefits fall in Stoke-on-Trent South from 2350 in 2010 to 1180 at the most recent count. Being in employment helps to transform people’s life chances and quality of life, creating opportunities to succeed.


I have made it one of my top priorities to continue to not only increase the number of jobs but the quality of jobs available in Stoke-on-Trent. Our local workforce is still one of the lowest paid in the country and we must continue to do more to increase wage levels, as well as creating better quality jobs. Nationally increasing the personal tax-free allowance and creating a national living wage has seen households taking home more money. But we still need to do more to attract more higher skilled and higher paid jobs.


The majority of new jobs created in recent years have come from local businesses doing well and being able to recruit more employees. Clearly, a key important role for us as MPs is to create the best environment for businesses to operate successfully and deliver more of the jobs our communities need. For many businesses, this means measures such as balancing how much tax the Government takes, versus how much is left for the firm to invest and expand. The Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone, supported by the City Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, is an excellent success story of local partners working to encourage business – simplifying planning, reducing financial burdens and bureaucracy, enabling businesses to flourish.


If we are to succeed in creating better quality jobs it is essential to continue to grow ingenuity and enable our businesses to become the innovators of the future. A big part of this will be developing our ceramic sector deal, which at its heart is focused on advancing the industry into the future, making it more competitive and enabling us to take advantage of the increasing importance of high-tech ceramic products. This is about, championing and sustaining the successful rebirth we have seen in our traditional ceramics sectors, whilst making Stoke-on-Trent the hub for UK ceramics research in advanced materials. I fully back our ability to deliver on this deal and enable local partners to work with Government to reach our true potential.


As an MP one of the privileges I have, and one of the most useful parts of my job, is supporting our local businesses, being their voice in Westminster to raise any issues or priorities directly with Government. I visit businesses in my constituency every week, and in only the last few weeks I have spoken to directors, workers, and owners, right through from a small art pottery studio, to a large multinational manufacturer looking to expand in our city.


Locally we have some brilliant facilities to support smaller enterprises and Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce especially do some great work supporting new and growing businesses. What is clear is that we have a huge variety of successful local businesses, championing great innovation in the city and our local economy is now probably more diverse than it has ever been before.


I will shortly be supporting businesses from my constituency at an event in Parliament where manufacturers and food and drink makers from all over Staffordshire will have the chance to showcase their fantastic products to politicians from across the country. Most recently, I was delighted to nominate RAN Ales, a small brewery in Fenton, to have one of their beers served in the House of Commons bar last week. Nev and Karen, the husband-and-wife team behind the brewery, came down to the Palace of Westminster to see their beer being served in the home of our democracy, a great advert for a small, dedicated team making some of the best quality local ale products.


Nev’s and Karen’s story is a remarkable one, from brewing a small batch in Nev’s kitchen for his friends, to a full-time brewery with eleven ales and even its own bar, in just four years. While I am pleased to play my small part, this is something we can all do. We all know a high-quality local coffee shop, or a small manufacturer making quality crafted products. We need to stop bashing businesses, and instead support and promote the people running fantastic local businesses, who benefit all of us, as employers and consumers.


This article appeared originally in The Sentinel, on Monday 25th June 2018.