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FSB Wales Outlines Ambitious Challenge for next Parliament

Senedd. Credit: Adobe Stock

FSB Wales has today published its manifesto for the next Welsh Parliament elections in May 2021. Our Business is Wales – FSB’s Vision for 2020-2025 outlines the economic priorities that are crucial for Wales’ political parties as we head into an election that comes at a critical time for Wales’ business community.

Throughout 2020 FSB Wales has spoken to thousands of business owners and self-employed individuals as part of the Our Business is Wales campaign. Through survey work, online events, digital work and many individual conversations up and down the country more members than ever before have been engaged in developing a plan for the next Welsh Parliament. This has all been brought together in an agenda designed by small businesses for small businesses.

This work has also been informed by a landmark State of the Nation Survey which had responses from 500 businesses in Wales and informed a huge number of issues ahead of the launch of the manifesto.

FSB’s headline proposal is that an ‘Economic Development Bill for Wales’ be introduced during the next Senedd term. In the 21 years since devolution, there has never been a Bill in Wales that focuses solely on economic development. Such a bill would help give statutory underpinning to key Welsh bodies and focus on challenging the next Parliament to be laser-focused on growing the economy and supporting the businesses that are such a huge part of Wales’ communities and local economies across the country.

Other key proposals in the manifesto include:

Introduce a Future of Welsh Towns Fund

The next Welsh Government should support Welsh towns by funding a Future of Welsh Towns Fund that would help every town in Wales create a strategy for its future.

Introduce an incentive for SMEs to take on Apprenticeships

Many companies are struggling to rebalance their finances in light of the cashflow crisis caused by Covid-19. As a result, recruitment intentions are likely to be dampened for some time. If we are to build back better, the next Welsh Government needs to address these concerns.

Create a new arm’s length Economic Development Agency

An arm’s length trade and investment body International Wales should be created, tasked with delivering a strong international brand for Wales, and in building on internationalising Welsh SMEs.

Relieve the rates burden by introducing a Business Rate Freeze for the life of the next Senedd

The next Welsh Government can ease this burden and rebalance the scales between high street and online trade by freezing rates for the life of the next Welsh Parliament.

Committing to no income tax rises above England during the next Senedd

FSB Wales believes that the next Welsh Government should make a commitment to at the very least maintain the same tax rates as currently exist in England.

Develop a long term 30-year Infrastructure strategy

Wales needs a stable long-term infrastructure strategy with an institutional support to construct an authoritative evidence led 30-year strategy, and the institutional means and finance tools to deliver.

Ensure cutting edge access to broadband and mobile connectivity for every corner of Wales

99% of SMEs see broadband as crucial to their businesses. The pandemic has illustrated where gaps in provision of quality and secure broadband across Wales have an impact on the market for SMEs, as well as firms’ ability to deliver on their services.

Introduce an advice line for SMEs on environmental issues through Business Wales

Wales’ small firms have a key role to play in our environmental transition as a nation, particularly as we seek to achieve ambitious decarbonisation targets. This should start by introducing an advice line for SMEs on environmental issues through Business Wales, working with SMEs on the regulatory framework for the environment.

Ben Francis, FSB Wales Policy Chair, said:

“Small business owners and the self-employed in Wales have experienced a more difficult year than many of us could ever have imagined taking place.

“Multiple lockdowns, local restrictions and sector-specific measures all aimed at preventing the rise of coronavirus have left our business community in a more precarious position than we have seen for some time. We believe that there has never been a more critical moment for an Economic Development Bill for Wales to be introduced which would underpin sustained recovery and a longer-term vision for the Welsh economy. This is not about legislation for the sake of legislation but using the powers available to the Parliament to cement an approach which will give confidence to businesses to grow and invest as well as enhancing Wales’ place as a destination for investment.

“Our manifesto covers a huge amount of ground; the environment, infrastructure, the future of our towns, procurement and so much more. It is a blueprint of the kind of path that we must take to ensure that we can build a sustainable future in the wake of coronavirus and in the coming years.

“We would urge all political parties to consider the measures and calls within our manifesto. It is informed and led by our members across the country – these are the businesses that we need to support in order to build back from the pandemic and to ensure that our economy and communities are prosperous and sustainable once again.”