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Smarter London SMEs: Our first three months

Parma Sira, Small Business Disability Adviser

Parma Sira

Smarter London SMEs officially launched just over three months ago, and as we prepare to host our first ever Smarter London SMEs Network meeting later this month, I thought it’d be a good time to report on how the service is helping London’s small business community on their disability smart journeys.

Business Disability Forum launched the service to recognise the vital role played by London’s small businesses as both service providers and employers. Nearly 99 per cent of all London’s businesses are SMEs, employing just over two million people.

Funded through City Bridge Trust’s Positive Transitions Programme, Smarter London SMEs is a free service available to all London businesses with fewer than 250 employees and an annual turnover of less than £43 million. This includes start-ups, high street stores, charity organisations, sole traders and social enterprises.

Engaging with London SMEs

Research conducted by BDF in 2020 on developing disability confidence in SMEs found 46% of the small and medium sized businesses surveyed stated that they were not interested in accessing further advice and guidance on disability inclusion. Some of the reasons for this include perceptions of the costs involved, lack of resources, and a poor understanding of the business benefits of disability inclusion.

Our experience shows that SMEs typically only tend to seek disability related support in an emergency, or when something unforeseen happens such as a customer complaint or staff associated grievance.

Engaging with SMEs on the topic of disability inclusion is often a difficult task, especially in a tough economic climate where resources and capacity are stretched. With this in mind, and recognising the unprecedented challenge SMEs have experienced over the past year, we published a host of disability advice articles focusing on the practical benefits of improving disability standards, and support business recovery post-pandemic. This included covid related guidance on creating safe and secure environments for disabled staff, and tips on how to attract more disabled customers.

These were shared widely on social media, on BDF’s website, and through SME sector based publications helping many of our new members find the service. Some of these articles are listed below:

Working with SMEs on Disability Inclusion

Organisations joining Smarter London SMEs have access to a confidential SME Advice Service for day to day disability queries, as well as one to one guidance from a dedicated Small Business Disability Advisor for longer term planning to improve disability standards in all areas of the organisation.

These are some of the most frequently requested areas of advice the service has been supporting London’s small business community since Smarter London SMEs was launched in March:

  • Inclusive recruitment

Guidance on creating a truly inclusive end to end recruitment process is a topic many of our members have been keen to receive help with. This includes advice on accessible job descriptions, how and when to implement reasonable adjustments, attracting more disabled applicants, and barrier free online recruitment portals.

  • Access to work

Access to Work is the government’s funded employment support program to help disabled people start and stay in work through financial support for things like purchasing specialist equipment, travel costs and support workers. The scheme is often vital to small businesses and their disabled employees, but many smaller businesses find the process complicated. We’ve been helping clarify the process and review submissions.

  •  Premises concerns

Getting ready for post-pandemic trading is another area of concern our members have been requesting help with. Smarter London SMEs has been supporting its members create safe and secure environment for staff and customers. For non-profit organisations, we have been connecting them to the ACAS service, run by the Centre of Accessible Environments who review and recommend changes to make premises more accessible to people with disabilities free of charge.

  • Financial and business support

Many of the small businesses we’ve been speaking to have asked for information on financial and business related support. The UK government has set aside around £87bn in the form of business relief loans and grants to support businesses effected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although advising on finance and business support isn’t the purpose of Smarter London SMEs, we helped connect our members to funding schemes and relevant organisations for this type of support.

  • Covid safety for staff and customers

Welcoming back disabled employees, and creating safe environments for staff and customers as COVID-19 restrictions lift is another area of support requested by our members. BDF have a comprehensive free COVID-19 toolkit which is full of useful advice on this topic, and as mentioned earlier we’ve written a number of SME specific articles on this subject.

  •  Inclusive communications

We’ve also been guiding our members to better communicate with people with disabilities, both at work and as customers. This includes advice on creating accessible documents, offering alternative formats, and how to create inclusive marketing materials such as takeaway menus.

Looking forward

As Smarter London SMEs continues to grow, we look forward to welcoming more SMEs into our expanding network of small businesses in London, committed to improving the life choices of disabled people as employees and consumers.

If you’re part of a small business in London, or know someone who could benefit from the comprehensive free disability advice and support offered by the Smarter London SMEs service, please do get in touch with me:

  • by email at
  • or by phone: +44 (0)20 7089 2483

Read more about Smarter London SMEs on our webpage

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