If I Were Chancellor...

Last Updated Apr 22, 2009 7:43 AM EDT

For all its vaunted support of the SME sector, can the government help them now, when access to funding and supply chain pressures are constricting their ability to grow?

According to the Chartered Management Institute's latest Economic Outlook Survey, 85 per cent of managers think the government should provide tax breaks for investment in the skills of their workforce.

They also want the government to take "decisive action" to address the potential skills shortage facing businesses.

Here's what SME bosses and their representatives would like from Chancellor Alistair Darling today:

1. A clear strategy
"The government's attempts to aid business recovery during this recession have so far lacked a clear and overarching strategy. While many measures introduced have been welcomed, a flood of announcements have often confused and lacked direction.

"It will be business that leads the UK out of recession. For this reason it is vital that the Chancellor's Budget does all it can to help companies by allowing them the freedom to create jobs and wealth.

"This means cutting taxes, freezing the national minimum wage, calling time on unnecessary regulation, implementing a car scrappage plan, and introducing a temporary short time working scheme to save skilled jobs.

"Collectively, we need to be looking at what sort of economy we want to see in the future and importantly what action will need to be taken to get us there."

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce
Funding access for SMBs "Darling's Budget is a crucial one for many small businesses struggling with access to finance, maintaining cashflow and retaining and creating jobs.

"Give bank lending a kickstart with an independent corporate mediator, put in place to facilitate dialogue between small businesses and banks."

Rate relief "Small firms need a cashflow boost worth thousands of pounds and are looking to for help on rate bills with the introduction of automatic rate relief and action to tackle late payment, currently costing small businesses an estimated £26bn."

Job saving measures "A subsidy package to support short-term working would save jobs, thereby preventing further unemployment."

John Wright, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses
2. Match graduates with small businesses

"For me, working in the early stage technology sector, it's all about instilling confidence.

"I would like to see more proactive work to target the already announced finance initiatives into growth potential companies.

"I'd also like to see help for small and medium-sized enterprises regarding graduate recruitment -- there's going to be a wasted year of graduates and they could make a huge impact with smaller companies."

Mike Herd, Sussex Innovation Centre

3. Prioritise the viable business sectors

"If I were Chancellor, I would ensure that I made policy decisions to stimulate a flow of investment into start-ups and growing businesses that help create jobs and encourage innovation.

"My focus would be on investment in real businesses that have longevity and an opportunity for growth and development, rather than on fragile sectors such as the housing market that create virtual wealth and a false level of security.

"I would also reduce corporation tax for smaller businesses and tighten up the tax loopholes for larger corporations who manage to get away without paying tax in the UK."

Brett Raynes, managing director, Backup Direct

4. Boost employment

"(Un)employment has got to be the greatest issue facing UK at the moment. I would like to see an incentive for businesses (particularly startups) to take on staff. This should take the form of breaks on PAYE liability for new staff and perhaps even reduction in minimum wage.

"My new business [Shutl] is operating in retail space and so I'm also keen for assistance for high street retailers, particularly by abolishing the massive rate hikes and also stepping in with regard to credit risk insurance."

Tom Allason, founder, eCourier

5. Incentivise carbon-cutting measures

"In general I would like to see a Budget that incentivises consumers to focus on carbon and other emissions as part of their purchase decision, thereby levying a sliding tax scale related to such emissions.

"These incentives would place an increased cost on more polluting products and services and therefore drive demand for ever more efficient alternatives.

"Once such a system is established then it can be ratcheted down over progressive budgets providing clear direction to consumers and business for future policy.

"Once the consumer demand is established for lower carbon products and service then the entrepreneurs within the economy can develop business ideas/models which grow in to these new spaces.

"The government should focus on changing consumer behaviour, either individual or businesses, and capitalism will then take care of the rest."

Steve Hartridge, managing director, GoingGreen

6. Rein in public spending

"Apparently, Alistair Darling will announce a much-touted £15bn round of cuts in public spending in the Budget, but in the face of a £175bn hole in the public purse, this is akin to playing piano on the Titanic while the ship is sinking. Has he not quite grasped the seriousness of the economic situation we're in?

"The UK suffers from far too many wealth consumers and not enough wealth creators. A huge number of people are employed by the state on considerable salaries with little or no accountability and index-linked pension rights while the minority working in the private sector are keeping them afloat by paying disproportionate business and income taxes.

"In short, the government should stop being so free and easy with our money and bring public spending under control. To do this, Alistair Darling has to implement a more wide reaching commitment than a nominal £15bn reductions proposal."

Doug McLean, CEO, Office Canopy Group