This article was written for, and is available to read on The Yorkshire Post.
Across the North, family businesses play a vital role in their communities, creating a sense of local identity and community spirit. As Family Business Week comes to a close, we should take stock of the significant contribution family businesses make to the economy and our communities – but also chart a course forward for supporting them through the difficult months to come.
Family firms employ around 14 million people, and most businesses across every region of the UK are family owned. All too often they are overlooked. We focus on the needs of short-term listed firms, and not the long term needs of multigenerational businesses.
It is important to recognise that over recent years, our family businesses have faced a challenging operating environment. From the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to the cost-of-living crisis, family firms have had to make difficult decisions on their future.
But this Government remains the party of business. The Conservative Party understands that family businesses create jobs that put food on the table and support the skills development of the next generation of business leaders. Many of our members and MPs have a background in family businesses and know first-hand the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
The 2019 election was won on a promise of ‘levelling up’ the country. Many voters in the North and Midlands who had never considered the Conservative Party turned to us to deliver real change in their area.
And we can’t level up the UK without putting those community-based family firms at the heart of our policy agenda.
As we look ahead, that levelling up agenda remains a core undertaking. With Michael Gove back at the helm of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, I believe we can continue our work to reduce regional inequality and achieve growth in the North.
As chairman of the Northern Research Group and chairman of the Family Business All Party Parliamentary Group, I am acutely aware that family businesses are firmly at the heart of our economy.
They very much hold the key to unlocking growth in the North as they employ, retain and develop the skills of local people, as well as create opportunities for the next generation through apprenticeship schemes.
Despite everything that is going on at the moment, it is levelling up that must remain a key tenet of this government’s policy decisions. We must place the utmost importance on upskilling people in our Northern towns and cities where there is a visible opportunity gap.
In my role as chairman of the Northern Research Group, businesses across Yorkshire have told me they are waiting for policy clarity as well as direction on inward investment.
I’ve spoken with the Institute of Family Business – the business organisation representing family firms across the country – who have told me that 80 per cent of their members are less confident going into this winter than last year at the height of the pandemic.
That is a significant and serious number, but it provides useful insight for the Government into the business community’s needs, challenges ahead and how the Government can help create investment opportunities.
If you happen to be out on your local high street, do stop by a family business to show your support and community spirit.
John Stevenson MP is chairman of the Northern Research Group.