The green shoots of growth come to MK

Mark Lancaster
Mark Lancaster

THIS week saw the release of the latest national unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics.

These figures showed that the unemployment rate for the UK stands at 4.1 per cent, with Milton Keynes just below the average at four per cent. Of concern are figures for 18-24 year olds which shows an unemployment rate of 7.6 per cent in MK.

In recent weeks I have been trying to do my bit by promoting apprenticeships for young people. Encouraging employers to start new programs as well as visiting schemes run at places such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at Hanslope Park, the new training academy at Mercedes Benz and a new and innovative apprenticeship scheme set up by 3aaa. These are all making a difference to help people to help themselves. Apprenticeships and training might not be for everyone, so with a reputation as a city full of entrepreneurs, I also recently visited thecentre:mk branch of Barclays bank to see how they are supporting start up businesses.

Over the past three years the news has read like a horror story about bankers’ bonuses and the lack of money being lent by banks. However, there now may be some light at the end of this rather dark and grim tunnel.Project Merlin is a government scheme to encourage banks to lend money to small and medium sized businesses. It ring fenced £190bn and stipulated that £76bn go to small firms. So far banks have lent £74.9bn to small businesses, so there is some room for improvement.

When visiting Barclays I met with their Regional Business Director to see what they are doing to increase lending to businesses in MK.

What I discovered was a far cry from the horror stories with which we are so familiar. Barclays has launched a series of lending clinics, where business managers from the company go along and meet with small and medium sized businesses and those who are looking into setting up their own businesses. They can offer a huge array of help, information and continued support by way of a specialised support line, direct access to your business manager and free consultations. They have increased the number of specialised business managers by five per cent and with over 770,000 business banking customers they offer tailored banking and support for each and every business.

This is fantastic news for MK. We have seen over 10 per cent of businesses in the city which were set up during the tough markets over the past three years are achieving £100,000 turnover. In the UK as a whole during the same difficult period, there are around one in 20 businesses which are turning over £200,000.

It’s a turn of phrase which has been over-used recently, but we really are starting to see the green shoots of growth and I am pleased MK is playing a huge part in this success story. The turnover figures for businesses set up over the past three years really is encouraging and I hope all banks in MK sign up to similar schemes to ensure there is enough support for people looking to set up their own business.