SMALL firms need their own skills council because Government training initiatives are not reaching them, the Federation of Small Businesses said. The UK s smallest businesses – which are responsible for around 90 per cent of Huntingdonshire s employment –

SMALL firms need their own skills council because Government training initiatives are not reaching them, the Federation of Small Businesses said.

The UK's smallest businesses - which are responsible for around 90 per cent of Huntingdonshire's employment - must be given their own Small Business Sector Skills Council that will focus on the needs of micro-firms, with fewer than five employees.

Micro-firms are currently being excluded from Government-run training schemes, and are struggling to take advantage of the 'Train to Gain' scheme, an FSB survey has found, Huntingdonshire FSB chairman Malcolm Lyons said.

Train to Gain aims to help businesses develop the skills of their staff, but many small firms are not aware subsidised training is on offer and the majority of sole traders wrongly believe they do not qualify to apply for training, according to the new FSB survey.

Despite a £350m pot of money being announced in spring this year for the hardest-to-reach small businesses - which tend to be at the micro end - 88 per cent of respondents to the survey of FSB members said they had not taken up an offer of training through Train to Gain, Mr Lyons explained.

The majority (78 per cent) said the scheme needed to be more flexible, and identified the need for training on issues specific to the smallest firms, including leadership and management for businesses with fewer than five employees, and specialised technical and business skills areas that micro-businesses operate in.

There was also interest in areas such as IT, health and safety, responding to tenders and sales and marketing - crucial business management skills that the smallest firms may not have expertise in.

"Only 18 per cent of respondents were even aware that training was available in smaller 'bite-sized' chunks, which are so important for small businesses - the majority of which have fewer than four employees and 2.72million of which are self employed," Mr Lyons said.

"The Government must start to recognise the needs of the country's smallest businesses, especially during this crucial time when firms need to be investing in skills and training so that they can emerge stronger as they pull the economy out of recession.

"The FSB welcomes extra funding for, and the focus on, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as the increased flexibility. But much of the Government's training offer goes over the heads of the hardest-to-reach small firms because the training available is inappropriate for the majority of the country's smallest businesses, and because it still isn't flexible enough," he added.

"A small business with only two employees needs to be able to train its staff in a way that doesn't force them to be out of the office for days on end - especially during a recession when the business needs to be functioning on all cylinders. What we really need is dedicated training for the smallest firms.