At the end of March, Llandudno will be hosting the Welsh Labour conference. It will be a great opportunity to highlight our policies – and provide a welcome boost to the small and medium sized companies that are the mainstay of the local economy.
There are plenty of excellent local businesses for visitors to try: starting with accommodation. Llandudno has more hotels than Cardiff with the vast majority small and family-run. Some lucky delegates may be staying in the Lauriston Court, voted as the best bargain place to stay in the UK on TripAdvisor or the Wellington which came fourth in the same category.
Visitors can also sample local food producers such as Edwards of Conwy butchers and the famous Conwy mussels still hand raked in the harbour. We have a range of micro-breweries in North Wales and four of them (Great Orme, Nant, Conwy and Purple Moose) run the Albion Ale House in Conwy as a joint venture. It is the well-deserved CAMRA Wales pub of the year.
Wales is a small country and in 2011 SMEs accounted for 99% of all business in Wales and were responsible for 60% of private sector employment. Aberconwy has had large employers in the past, such as the Hotpoint factory in Llandudno Junction and the Aluminium works at Dolgarrog. But these are long gone.
Tourism is the focus for growing our economy, with significant employment in retail, farming and social care too. SMEs predominate: 72% of businesses employ 5 people or less and 45% operate below the VAT threshold.
The key question is how we help them to grow. For many staying safe is more important than growing and with banks still reluctant to lend and usually requiring loans to be secured on personal homes, this is hardly surprising.
The largest untapped potential for new businesses is women. Although official figures suggest the number of self employed women is growing fast, men are still twice as a likely to set up a business and two to three times more likely to own businesses with employees. Yet UK-wide there are over 2.4 million women who are not in work but want to work, and over 1.3 million who want to increase the number of hours they work.
We know women have been hard hit by the Government’s cuts and many I spoke to at a recent craft event were developing hobbies and trying to make up for lost income but didn’t really see what they were doing as providing a long term or stable future income.
But are they missing a trick, and if so, how can we help? Would mutual or co-operative models work better for them and do they have the information to make a choice? In the US they have set up women’s business centres to provide advice, support and mentoring specifically aimed at women.
The US Government has also introduced a statutory goal that 5% of federal contract value is awarded to women-owned SMEs and Federal contracts can be set aside for women-owned small businesses. This means larger companies are often seeking out such companies to partner with.
What else can we do to ensure public procurement meets our policy objectives? Many local authorities and the Welsh government itself are seeking to use public sector procurement to support local businesses – could we do the same to support women in business and would it help grow the economy?
Mary Wimbury is Labour’s PPC for Aberconwy