Brexit: 'Bizarre' lack of SME business involvement

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Businesses employing 62% of Wales' workforce are not represented in a Welsh Government Brexit group, claims a chambers of commerce president.

Liz Maher said a lack of small and medium-sized (SME) business involvement was "bizarre".

The first minister set up the advisory body to help Wales get the best deal from negotiations to leave the EU.

A Welsh Government spokesman said group members are "individual experts" rather than representatives of organisations.

There are 250,080 businesses in Wales, with 95% of these micro-businesses employing fewer than 10 workers.

These employ almost 35% of the workforce, while 1,655 large businesses (employing more than 250 people each) are responsible for 38%.

The SMEs, with between 10 and 249 workers, employ 27.5% of the workforce.

Ms Maher, president of the south and mid Wales chambers of commerce, questioned why nobody from the SMEs have been present on the group.

She added that chambers meet regularly with the UK government over Brexit but she feels "slightly more remote" from the Welsh government's thinking on the issue.

There are representatives of the employers' body CBI and the union umbrella group TUC on the group.

While she welcomed the involvement of the CBI, she said there is still an "imbalance" because most of those involved are politicians or from charities or universities.

'Positive future'

However, Ms Maher said the CBI represents larger businesses and their issues and needs are "very different from ours".

She is concerned that unless the SME voice is heard "around the table" then they will get a bad deal from Brexit.

"We're clearly an SME economy. That's what's driving the engine of growth in Wales and yet there is absolutely no SME representation," she said.

"Now how can we be taking account of the real, on the ground, concerns if the voice of that key business sector is not there?"

In the last five years, micro-businesses have added almost 55,000 jobs to the economy, small and medium sized firms have created almost 40,000 while larger companies have created 30,000.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "The advisory group has a wealth of expertise and experience, which will help us shape a positive future for Wales outside of the EU, but firmly within Europe.

"Advisory group members are individual experts rather than representatives of organisations and the group is just one of the sources of advice and guidance for this government."

He added SMEs are represented through the Federation of Small Businesses and the south and mid Wales chambers of commerce on the Council for Economic Renewal.

This is "heavily engaged" on Brexit issues and also "influences the Welsh Government's position", he added.

Conservative economy spokesman Russell George said the Welsh Government's approach should be shaped by a range of viewpoints.

"Small businesses are the lifeblood of the Welsh economy, and it makes no sense at all to exclude such a significant section of the business community from discussions around Brexit," he added.

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