I was invited to the launch of Lord Heseltine’s proposal for the government to deal with growth in the UK, along with many other businesses from across the country. Many people can find fault with any argument for change. This is only my opinion, but I believe it is shared by a number of other business people and leaders.
The build-up to the day was filled with excitement and anticipation. Here I was going to meet and hear a man who, as an MP and then as Deputy Prime Minister under John Major, had played a significant role in shaping the country throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. I had heard his speech at the Chamber of Commerce Awards when I was a finalist for entrepreneur of the year.
I finally arrived with other business people, local government officials, and educational peers who were all curious about what was going on. Lord Heseltine took the stage and spoke about industrial giants like Sir Joseph Chamberlin and industrial leaders like James Alexandra Watt. He referred to the industrial revolution as the true turning point of this country, but then explained how these entrepreneurs failed to maintain the finances required for the upkeep of these great cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds, and how power was then transferred to central government in Whitehall, London.
My real concern is that when he says that the central government should delegate authority over how taxpayers’ money is spent to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and local business leaders, who are these people?
What kind of business expansion experience do they have? And can they demonstrate that they have the necessary skills before being appointed to these Prime Minister-led committees? He emphasises the importance of SMEs, but then goes on to say that we should learn from our German and French counterparts, and that industry titans such as the Rolls-Royces and Jaguars of the world should sit on these committees because they have the necessary experience.
Isn’t it true that the true nature of entrepreneurship stems from start-ups and business leaders who have taken the risk of starting something from scratch? As a result, in some cases, rather than having highly educated senior executives from large corporations chair these committees, having someone from a SME would be of great benefit to the committee.
As a result, we should invite Sir Richard Branson and Lord Sugar to serve on these steering committees, as well as smaller business leaders who understand what it’s like to be involved in a start-up and deal with the challenges that small businesses, as well as large organisations, face. In many cases, it is small businesses that can demonstrate how to embrace change and growth more effectively.
What this country really needs are the steely balls that can only come from someone who has established and run a small business to serve on these committees. He made no mention of a role for a business leader running a SME in his speech. If this is the case, all we will have is another failed partnership led by the country’s industrial behemoths and politicians, which means we will have accomplished nothing.
It also worries me that, in my opinion, the same LEPs have no more faith in his recommendations than anyone else. I assumed he was simply repeating political jargon that had been raised in previous governments and had resulted in nothing since. This was demonstrated in his response to my own question, when I asked what will change with your report, and we have heard all of this before, and is it not true that Whitehall will only see this as some great points to be considered but not implemented?
His response summed it up nicely when he said, “I’ve done my part; now it’s up to you and the government to do yours.”
George Osborne may say that we will take some of his points on board and make a concerted effort to put them into action, but the proof will be in the pudding. Until then, small businesses like mine will bear the brunt of the burden by being unable to obtain any type of funding and will be forced to make the difficult decision of trying to stay afloat rather than growing. If we are to see real change, we must address the issues that businesses face when seeking bank funding to expand. This is the same money that the government used to bail out the banks with taxpayer money.
Because the computer says no, the banking system decides not to lend or increase business overdrafts. Before embarking on unrealistic plans to devolve central government, we need banks to listen to small businesses and open up the lending process.
Businesses require assistance now, not after the government’s planned review in 2015. This entire launch suggests that Lord Heseltine is attempting to imply that the old dog still has life in it. I believe this is more of the same political spin we saw from Blair’s administration, albeit in a different package.
I wish it could happen, but I believe there are more pressing issues to address before we open Pandora’s Box.