28th July, 2015 No Comments
Kevin Horne, CEO, Cavendish, explores simple ways in which the Small Firms Minister could make a difference to SME’s.
Since the Election, it has been interesting and amusing to read the commentary on, and directed towards Anna Soubry, the ‘Small Firms Minister’. Many claim the idea for having a Minister dedicated to small business rather stretches credibility especially when you look at the job description which is unchanged from the previously titled post. The emphasis placed on ‘small’ is welcome, but will this change anything?
I am realistic enough to know that little notice is taken of ‘chatter’ such as this blog, but at least this is coming from someone who has started and run small businesses and supported more than most people in the UK today!
Big Business does not get Small Business:
There is a reason why Ministers and civil servants interact well with big businesses – it is because they are intrinsically the same. A ‘command and control’ structure; bureaucracy; inability to react quickly; little personal responsibility; and nothing personally ‘on the line’. Small business cannot hope to break into this cartel as they do not have the time or inclination to divert their attention from actually creating wealth in local communities. To change the way government interacts and supports the key SME community needs BIS and the Government to make the effort to break the cycle of big business domination. The Minister could make a real impact here by ensuring that she spends her time solely with the SME sector and eschews meetings with big business or their representatives for say 12 months. This would help to gain a true perspective of the sector and how and what the government can do without ‘contamination’ from a large company perspective. It is interesting to see the makeup of, for example, the Industrial Development Advisory Board which advises on business matters – all worthy individuals but hardly representative of the wider business community.
Do not patronise:
Nearly all of the entrepreneurs that I have met are more interesting people than those working their way up a corporate ladder. They are innovative, passionate, risk takers, and possessed of a keen intellect. Too often they are patronised by Government which treats them as children compared to the ‘grown up’ big business. The first thing that you realise when starting a business is that honesty is vital. SME’s realise that Government cannot do everything, and that there are limits dictated by a variety of factors. As such, announcements such as a ‘war on red tape’ are treated with a resigned sigh as we have heard it before and it never really works. Legislation is important and should ensure that there is a level playing field for all, in whatever sector. We understand that. Be honest and tell us what you have done – not what you intend to do. Small businesses will know when you have been successful without PR puff and they will reward you with their loyalty when elections come around.
Use your influence and power wisely:
We have all heard of the tales of clever tax schemes designed to minimise the tax paid by the multi nationals, or tales of local planning being worn down by the bottomless pit of developers. Government can close loopholes but cannot amend international practices on their own. What they can do is use their influence to shut out those who seek to avoid their civic responsibility. No honours for anyone involved with those businesses; no contact with Government or civil servants until they amend their ways; no visits by Minsters; or promoting of their PR schemes. This shunning policy can change behaviour as influence declines in these businesses.
I could go on as there are any other simple ways to change the face of business in the UK. The majority of businesses are well run but there are always those who will seek to gain an unfair advantage. Government needs to ensure that what it does is well thought through and free from loopholes. We seem to live in a society where the headline today is more important than the legacy in years to come. For those like me who have been around a long time, we can name a long succession of ‘Small Business Ministers’ but few, if any, who have made a difference. If we now have someone who is dedicated to the lot of the SME sector they can write their place in history and ensure a legion of supporters who have become used to being ignored, patronised or used.
Good luck Minister – all we ask is that you represent our needs and concerns – that alone will elevate you above your peers.
Written by Kevin Horne, CEO, Cavendish
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely the views and opinions of the author.