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Bosses to tackle shortfall in skills

A TASK FORCE of leaders has been set up by the British Chambers of Commerce to deal with the widespread skills shortages that are said to be hindering small firms' competitiveness.

The move follows the publication of research by the organisation - in association with Alex Lawrie, a finance company that is part of Lloyds TSB - indicating that the problem is as serious as ever. The survey found that nearly a third of firms believe they are being held back by "inadequate levels of skills in both sales and management staff". Computing and other IT skills shortages remain acute, with firms pointing to particular problems with managerial and clerical staff.

In addition, business owners are concerned about the ability of the education system to meet their needs. More than 60 per cent of the 343 firms surveyed believe school-leavers lack basic writing skills, while 38 per cent feel the same about graduates. More than half were also critical of graduates' understanding of the business world.

The survey also found that, while take-up of such formal initiatives as National Vocational Qualifications and Investors in People is generally low, most small firms give training - largely through on-the-job and specific short courses.

Dr Ian Peters, deputy director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Skills shortages create major capacity constraints in the economy, giving rise to inflationary pressures."

The BCC action comes as Barclays Bank makes another attempt to persuade small business owners of the benefits of professional advice with the publication of two guides, "Getting the Best from your Business Adviser" and "Developing Relationships with Businesses". Both the guides have been produced with the aid of Business Links and are aimed at improving understanding between business managers and their advisers of their respective needs and priorities.

Mike Davis, managing director of small business banking at Barclays, said the initiative was prompted by its 1996 Building Better Businesses Awards, where 99 per cent of the companies nominated reported performance improvements directly attributable to working with Business Links advisers.