People who have experience of working on the shop floor ultimately make better bosses according to Gary Stevens, Managing Director of Hastings’ success story Focus SB.
Mr Stevens was the latest local business leader to met with Peter Chowney who is not only leader of Hastings Borough Council but is also Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate at the next general election.
Mr Chowney says; “Focus SB are a successful local company manufacturing high-specification decorative electrical fittings. Probably the sort of thing you’d think of as being made in China – but Focus recently won a contract to export their products to China, so you will now find light switches and power sockets in China that were made in Hastings!”
The two men discussed a range off issues that affect small and medium sized businesses and they considered the specifically the issues faced by companies based in Hastings.
Mr Chowney says: “The main problem for Focus SB is the lack of skills in the local workforce. This is partly about engineering-based skills, but also simpler ‘work ready’ skills.
“They have been working with local schools and have taken on apprentices so they can develop skills from scratch. Increases in the minimum wage have made it difficult for them, but they recognise that it’s a good thing overall, and provides more of an incentive to work if the minimum wage is increased.
“He does have a problem with the way Universal Credit (UC) works though, for those in work; his workers sometimes have to turn down overtime because they lose too much in UC by working the extra hours. There should be less UC penalty for working extra hours, he thought. Gary also suggested that there should be compulsory profit-sharing scheme for all workers in all companies, possibly linked to a maximum differential between the highest and lowest paid workers in a company.”
Mr Chowney also heard Mr Stevens concerns regarding the negative image young people have about a career in manufacturing, Mr Stevens believes it is seen as an inferior career path to more academic pathways: “He had worked his way up from the shop floor, and believes that those who have worked on the shop floor make better bosses. He suggested the idea of apprenticeships linked to business studies degrees a few years later, to attract young people into a career in manufacturing seem like a good idea.”
“He also raised the problems of the awful regional transport infrastructure around Hastings. For him, it’s not the transport of goods particularly, more the transport of people – both in terms of the journeys for his workers when he can’t recruit from within Hastings and simply getting clients and potential clients down here,” says Mr Chowney.
Mr Chowney also heard that a number of government grant schemes have been useful to Focus SB them, particularly R&D tax credit which Mr Stevens hopes will be continued and ideally extended.
“It was another interesting and worthwhile meeting and I will pass on his ideas to Labour’s national policy team, where they will help to build the next Labour manifesto. And we’ll keep looking for the additional grant funding we need for Hastings Council to build Focus SB the new factory they need,” said Mr Chowney.