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New research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development (CIPD), supported by J.P. Morgan, suggests giving small businesses basic HR support can help to lift workplace productivity. 

The CIPD is calling on Government to invest £13m a year to provide HR support to small businesses, as new research shows that it could be a key part of efforts to unlock the UK’s productivity puzzle.

The call is based on the evaluation of year-long ‘People Skills’ pilots providing HR support for SMEs in Hackney, Stoke-on-Trent and Glasgow.

People Skills was developed by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, with support from J.P. Morgan through the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. It provided up to two days’ worth of free HR support to small firms, including face-to-face advice, a telephone helpline, online information and templates, as well as group training events.

The evaluation report found that, while much of the support provided by the People Skills initiative was fairly basic, such as establishing workers’ terms and conditions or job descriptions, there was evidence that this provided a foundation for boosting workplace productivity.

Ben Willmott, CIPD Head of Public Policy, said:People Skills shows the potential benefits of targeted investment to improve small firms’ capability around the management of people through co-ordinated high-quality, locally-delivered business support via channels such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, chambers of commerce and local authorities.”

The service helped more than 400 small businesses employing between 5 and 50 employees across the three areas and was regarded as so successful in Glasgow that the city council continued to fund the programme once the research grant ran out.

In the evaluation report, owner managers were more likely to report their organisation was better or much better than similar firms in their sector on measures of workplace relations, labour productivity and financial performance after using the People Skills service than they were prior to using it. These benefits also came through in the in-depth qualitative interviews with owner managers that participated in the People Skills initiative.

Willmott continued: “If policy makers are serious about addressing the UK’s long-standing productivity deficit – particularly among the nearly 1.3 million small businesses that employ between 1 and 50 people - then they have to start seriously thinking about how to improve management quality, which the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane has identified as a key area for focus. People Skills provides a template of how to actually do this on the ground among small businesses.

“We calculate that about £40m from the Government’s National Productivity Investment Fund would support the £13m annual cost of running a People Skills-type service across all 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships in England for three years and could revolutionise the quality of business support for small firms.”

Hang Ho, EMEA Head of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, said: “Small business success is an essential element of the UK economy and a critical component in creating thriving local communities. Today’s report shines a light on the importance of basic HR practices to the success of small businesses, whether that is improving productivity, boosting the effectiveness of the management team or handling crises.

“While we hope the People Skills pilot will benefit participating companies in the long term, the findings clearly also demonstrate to policy makers a real need for HR support amongst SMEs.”

Key findings:

  • Online business support is inadequate unless supplemented by personalised advice and support, with face-to-face advice particularly valued by small business owner managers.
  • Existing fragmented business support provided at a local level should be rationalised to prevent duplication of provision and confusion among SMEs.
  • Policy makers need to re-think how they encourage SMEs to employ and train young people, in the workplace, for example through apprenticeships, as in most cases they don’t have the interest or capability to do this. Re-focusing a proportion of government investment in skills to providing enhanced business support around people management capability for SMEs would, over time, give more small businesses the capability and confidence to engage in programmes supporting young people into work in the future.
  • The support provided by People Skills did not disadvantage existing private sector providers as owner managers participating in People Skills had not previously accessed HR support services.

Reflecting on the findings of People Skillsas illustrated by CIPD's above press release (originally published on its website on 11th September 2017), Kathryn Roynon chartered MCIPD comments: "The findings of this report are not surprising: the results show the positive impact that effective people management, reward and development brings to a business. These benefits are exactly what I enjoy delivering for my clients. It's often just a question of getting the basics right (such as terms and conditions, clear job roles, induction and ongoing development), as well as giving business owners and line managers the skills and confidence to tackle HR issues and get the best out of their most important asset: their people.

"It's great to see our professional body, CIPD, lobbying the government to make funding available for all small businesses to access this support, as well as highlighting that better HR practices equal better productivity."

If you would like to discuss what HR approaches would help you achieve your business goals, do get in touch with Kathryn Roynon HR & Training Consultancy on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 01249 701486 or have a look at the range of services we provide for small to medium sized businesses.