IT is always a pleasure to see the number of students and others turn up to the Carlisle Skills Fair that I host each year – but just as pleasing to see is the level of support the fair receives from the business community.

Indeed, this year has seen largest number yet of businesses taking part. An indication of the interest from businesses but also, I think, the realisation from employers that they need to be proactive in recruiting future staff – and that they can play a hugely important role in training the workers of the future.

The businesses that do attend range from the international to the national and, of course, the more local. There are huge international companies looking to train individuals in advanced engineering and manufacturing skills, to small local companies looking to take on an individual in a particular sector.

This is the great thing about the fair, and indeed our local economy – and in fact, both these types of businesses are needed in any healthy economy.

I often think that we as a country overlook the importance of businesses and the importance for them to succeed. It is only by having a successful economy – which really means successful businesses – that we can afford our public services.

In some ways they are the unsung heroes, especially the smaller enterprises.

Perhaps we have taken them a little for granted over recent years. Firstly, just to set up a business is a huge risk, often involving personnel guarantees if you want to attract capital to grow.

Then, once established, a business has to navigate all the rules and regulations required to operate and to employ people – ensuring well paid jobs and security for families up and down the country.

Then, of course, there are the taxes! Our businesses pay rates to the local authority and corporation tax and VAT to central government –  indeed, the businesses themselves act as a tax collector in this respect as it is they who submit returns to the Inland Revenue. On top of this they pay Employers’ National Insurance for every member of staff.

Personally, I believe that this tax regime needs to be simplified for two main reasons – to remove red tape for businesses (especially small businesses!) and to help HMRC ensure that the right amount of tax is being paid.

But the point is that our businesses are tax generators and tax collectors – all to pay for our public services and infrastructure.

We may not talk about them much, but business is important for our country and our city.

Our businesses have had a difficult time recently – from the world-stopping event that was the pandemic to the hugely impactful war in Ukraine.

Despite all of this, businesses in Carlisle continue to invest in people and skills, meaning that the unemployment rate in the city thankfully remains low.

So, while of course the Carlisle Skills Fair is about future generations, and ensuring a prosperous and skilled population in our city, I am pleased that it is also a celebration of the businesses in Carlisle.