D&S column: backing small business in North Yorkshire

I hope you, your families and friends had great Christmas and New Year celebrations.

For my first column of 2019 I am returning to a subject dear to my heart – the small and medium-sized businesses which are the lifeblood of our local economy.

Most people in the Richmond constituency run, or work for, one of thousands of small enterprises. We don’t have any exceptionally large firms employing many thousands of people.

Since becoming your MP almost four years ago after an international career in commerce, I’ve made it my business to do all I can to help and promote the many small concerns that make this area what it is – economically vibrant and resilient.

Just before Christmas I had the honour of addressing the Dales Business Women. It was set up a year ago by Sharon Davis of Hawes as a networking group for entrepreneurial and professional women in the Dales and beyond.

Its programme of get-togethers and advice services addresses an important challenge of running a business in a very rural area. Isolation can be problem, not just because you are a long way from potential markets but also in terms of support. Running an enterprise on your own in our part of the world can be a lonely business.

I told the group’s members about how inspirational my Mum was to me when she set up her own pharmacy, and that became our family business. Making the transition from being a pharmacist to also being a small business owner was not easy and she would have appreciated the support of a network like the Dales Business Women.

We should never forget the risk entrepreneurs take when they forego the security of a regular pay-check to create their own companies. It is a bold move, often lonely and stressful, but as more people take the step, that is key to our area’s future prosperity.

I was recently briefed about an exciting development where a local school is teaming up with the business community to encourage more young people to consider starting their own businesses here in North Yorkshire.

The Wensleydale School has established a Business and Innovation Centre as part of its Sixth Form and is working closely with the Lower Wensleydale Business Network (LWBN) to provide enterprise training backed up with real life experience in local firms.

It is also in partnership with the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy, a programme run by the Dragons’ Den star and one of the country’s leading exam boards.

Students combine academic study in business-friendly subjects with a six-week internship and mentoring. Every student at the centre will be provided with a Mentor from the local business community with whom they will meet every three weeks to develop an understanding of the real world and the challenges of business.

The aim is to make Wensleydale Sixth Form the business and enterprise education hub for this part of North Yorkshire, providing a wider range of post-16 choices for students who might not wish to go down the traditional academic A-levels route.

It also provides an opportunity for local firms, who often struggle recruiting young people, to talent spot.

I’ll be backing this great local initiative, led by Charles Barnett at the school with the support of David Poole at the LWBN, in 2019 and continuing in Westminster to do all I can to support small business.