I was invited, as were many other businesses from across the country, to the launch of Lord Heseltine’s proposal for the government to deal with growth in the UK. Many people can criticise for any argument for change. This is my opinion only, but I feel that it is shared by a number fellow business people and leaders.
The build-up to the day was one of anticipation and real excitemen. Here I was going meet and hear a man that has played a real part in shaping the country throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s as an MP and finally a Deputy Prime Minister under John Major. When I was the finalist for entrepreneur of the year, I had heard his speech at the Chamber of Commerce Awards.
I finally arrived with other business people, local government and educational peers, who all were interested in what all the fuss was about. Lord Heseltine took to the stage and talked of the industrial greats, such as Sir Joseph Chamberlin and industrial leaders like James Alexandra Watt. He referred to the industrial revolution as being the real turning point of this country, but then how these entrepreneurs’ failed to maintain the finances needed for the upkeep of these great cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds and it was then that the power was transferred to central government in Whitehall, London.
My real concern is that when he mentions that central government should release its power to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and local business leaders to decide on how the taxpayers’ money is spent is, who are these people?
What experience do they have with business growth? And can they prove they have the right skills before they are chosen to sit on these committees, headed up by the Prime Minister? He talks on how important SMEs are, but then goes on to say we need to learn from our German and French counterparts and we should have industry giants such as the Rolls-Royces and Jaguars of the world sitting on these committees as they have the experienced required.
Is it not true that the true nature of entrepreneurship comes from start-ups and business leaders who have taken the risk and started something up from nothing? Therefore, in some instances not to have highly educated senior executives from large corporations heading up these committees and having someone from a SME would be of a real benefit to the committee. We should therefore be asking the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Lord Sugar to sit on these steering committees, along with smaller business leaders who have a real understanding on what it is like to be involved in a start-up and dealing with the challenges that small businesses face as well as large organisations. It is these small businesses who in a lot of instances can demonstrate how to embrace change and growth more effectively. What this country really needs is the balls of steel that can only really come from a person who has set up and run an SME company to sit on these committees. Nowhere in his speech did he see a role for a business leader running a SME. If this is the case then all we would have is another failed partnership that will be too heavily led by the industry giants of this country and politicians, which means we have achieved nothing.
It also concerns me that the same LEPs in my opinion have no more faith in his recommendations than anyone else. I thought he was just repeating political jargon that has been raised over the years in past governments and nothing has come about since. This was illustrated in his answer to my own
question, when I asked what is going to change with your report and we have heard all this before and is not true that Whitehall will only see this as being some great points to be considered but not implemented?
His answer summed it up when he said I have done my bit it is now down to you and the government to do yours.
George Osborne may say we are going to take some of his points on board and make real concrete effort to implement them, but the proof will be in the pudding. Until then small businesses like mine will take the brunt of the burden by not being able to get their hands on funding of any kind and will have to make the real harsh decision in trying to stay afloat rather than growing. If we are to see any real change we need to deal with issues facing businesses that are trying to get funding from the banks to grow. This is the same funding the banks have been given to bail them out by the government with taxpayers’ money.
The banking system is making decisions not to loan or increase business overdrafts because the computer says no. We need to banks to listen to small businesses and open up the lending process before moving on to unrealistic plans to devolve central government.
Businesses need help now, not after the planned review by the government in 2015. This whole launch indicates that Lord Heseltine is trying to say there is still life in the old dog yet. I feel this is more of the same political spin we had from Blair’s government just dressed up in a different package.
I wish it could happen, but I feel there are more important issues to be dealt with before we open the Pandora’s Box.
Pictured: Mark Linton, managing director of the Business Growth Show