GOVERNMENT must provide wider support to family businesses in order for them to maximise the benefits they bring the economy, a conference has heard.

The Scottish Family Business Conference 2017, held by FBU Scotland, heard from a variety of business leaders, who discussed the challenges of succession and the positive impact of family firms.

Addressing delegates, Paul Andrews, founder of FBU Scotland said: “The challenge is that governments don’t understand family businesses and what they do. They need to understand what we mean by family business.”

The conference was the first since the publication of FBU’s Scottish Family Business Top 100 report, which revealed that the top 100 family-owned firms in Scotland collectively generated £1.1 billion in profits and supported more than 103,000 jobs last year.

Mr Andrews introduced speakers including Paul Grant of Mackays, Heather Matthews of Little’s chauffeur hire; and Robert Graham Jr. of Graham’s Family Dairy.

Both Mr Grant and Ms Matthews touched on succession, with Mr Grant handing the managing director role to his son in 2011, and Ms Matthews taking over from her father in 2014. Both highlighted, from the perspective of their own generation, the importance of ensuring a succession plan is carried out with patience and diligence and to the benefit of the business.

This challenge is one unique to family businesses and FBU Scotland chairman Tom Craig later said: “We feel government and politicians don’t really get the difference between family businesses and non-family businesses. If they understood this better there would be an opportunity to nurture them. If the transition is easier there is more longevity.”

Mr Craig also said that more work would be carried out by FBU Scotland on the geographic presence of family businesses. With a wide spread across the country, FBU Scotland argues that not just the central belt feels the benefit of the employment and GVA generated by these firms.

Succession planning is the most well-known issue faced by family firms but Mr Craig said there also had to be further support in areas such as family members engagement with a business, how they get involved in the business and their progression, and how existing staff cope with family members on accelerated career paths. And also the dangers inherent for owners in passing on the business to “the wrong successor”.

These are challenges which Mairi Mickel deals with on a daily basis. Ms Mickel spent ten years on the board of the leading family business, McTaggart and Mickel. She now runs a consultancy advising family firms.

Speaking on the sidelines, she said the recent FBU report was a starting point, adding: “What the report highlighted about the sector, let’s build it up, get government funding to build on that. When succession fails, we have to know more about why, and set targets to ensure we reduce the number of businesses who do fail.”

Ms Mickel also suggested that specialist advisors from the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise worked with family businesses to help ensure the right plans are in place to thrive in the business. “There has to be cross-party support in understanding the massive contribution of family businesses to the economy,” she said.

She said that the challenges changed as family businesses grew through generations. “Moving from generation one to two is about leadership,” she said. “But from second generation to third, and onwards, it’s about ownership, to thrive and survive.”

Ms Mickel’s business takes in work in the US, specifically in Colorado and Boston, she said Scotland could learn a lot from family businesses across the Atlantic.

“They are miles ahead. We should look to the States, people see things just not discussed here,” she said.