Following May’s Senedd elections, the Welsh Government’s programme for Government covering 2021 to 2026 was recently published and it contains almost 100 specific areas of activity – a busy time ahead for the Government, the Senedd and officials.
The Government has also published its legislative programme for the first year of the sixth Senedd, with Bills to be introduced on post-16 education and training, a new system of farm payments, fair work rights and enabling changes to devolved taxes.
It was interesting to see the emphasis placed by the First Minister on seeking to eliminate inequality, linking all activity to the wellbeing objectives, with a programme ‘founded on the distinctively Welsh values of community, equality and social justice’.
The First Minister also promised to ‘embed our response to the climate emergency in everything we do,’ and to ‘transform our economy into one which is greener and fairer’.
Accountants and finance professionals in all sectors can play their part in this, and at ACCA we are working to support our members and their clients on this journey.
This ranges from research into the evolution of Integrated Reporting by companies, including increased reporting on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and guidance on how finance teams can play a role in building a more socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable future. That includes offering practical advice on how accountants can take small steps to support their organisations or clients on the journey to sustainability.
It was encouraging to see the continuing commitment to giving everyone under 25 the offer of work, education, training or self-employment.
As we know, many younger people have been impacted badly by the pandemic, and giving young people a variety of opportunities is a step forward in addressing some of the harm done over the last 15 months.
Also welcome is the proposal to create 125,000 All Age Apprenticeships, including the expansion of the degree apprenticeship programme.
Apprenticeships are a flexible and cost effective way of combining study and work, a way for employers to identify and support talent, and it is encouraging to see their uptake increasing across sectors.
That said, it would be most welcome if the Government could consider funding Level 7 Apprenticeships, as these can help to develop higher level leadership and strategic thinking skills that will be needed now and in the future as the economy recovers.
I’m conscious that the Government doesn’t have a bottomless pit of money to spend, but funding these programmes would be a worthwhile investment in the leadership skills that can drive success in companies and organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.
Another interesting and welcome proposal is to seek to double the number of employee-owned businesses in Wales. The best known example of this is the John Lewis Partnership, and in Wales there are a number of other good examples as well, including engineering companies, health firms, retail businesses, film and TV companies, architecture firms, IT organisations and print companies.
According to the Employee Ownership Association (EOA), the UK-wide sector is measured at 730 businesses (up from 470 in June 2020), although growth is slower in Wales than in other parts of the UK. Research undertaken as part of the Ownership Effect inquiry highlighted the benefits of employee ownership. For workers, the employee ownership model results in higher levels of engagement and wellbeing. Employees can also receive a top-up to their salaries as a result of sharing in the capital value they create. For businesses, employee ownership leads to higher productivity levels and better workforce-retention. The wider community also benefits from having good quality local jobs and from the fact that the business is unlikely to be bought out and moved elsewhere.
The Wales Co-operative Centre identified that fundamental to meeting the target to double the number of employee-owned businesses is raising awareness about the model among businesses and advisers such as accountants and legal professionals. Too few business owners are aware of the option and of the specialist support that is available.
At ACCA, our members support businesses across all sectors, and we welcome the opportunity to raise awareness amongst our members of the option of Employee Ownership.
Another key area where accountants can make a real difference is in providing advice on sources of finance, and this need was emphasised in a recent British Business Bank report.
It identified the biggest barrier to SMEs’ demand as lack of awareness of options available. So there is clearly plenty for accountants and finance professionals to do in this area.