Sir Alan Sugar speaks for the govt on small business

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DISTRICT LINE — The newly appointed Lord made a bit of a storm in Parliament with his maiden speech. Perhaps any minimalism in grace and nuance will inadvertently help our regular politicians, by showing how hard it is to speak without edits, teleprompters and producers.

Describing his views on small business he said:

“I have also seen some poor examples of businesses that simply will not succeed, even in the best of times. The reality is that, however good the help provided by government, some businesses simply do not work. Government and banks cannot just write blank cheques to anyone who thinks that they have a good idea.”

And that’s the basis of the argument. Essentially, if you don’t succeed it’s likely that your idea was rubbish. And that winds me up a bit. Because it sounds like the ‘American dream’ which is often translated as ‘if you work hard enough, you will succeed.’ And my experience, after working in government, in large businesses and in small business is that there are many things that government and large businesses do to keep small business down.

Which is why I like this second quote from Lord Sugar of Clapton:

“In Britain, small businesses have a lot to be proud of. They employ over 50 per cent in the private sector and they generate as much turnover as big business-in fact, 99 per cent of all businesses are SMEs. The credit crisis has pushed our SMEs to the limits. Some companies have struggled, not because of failure in business, but because of the tougher credit conditions.”

And in many ways it contradicts the quote above from the same speech. I have not seen any real effort made to help small businesses in a coordinated or concerted way. There’s lots of nice rhetoric, but the way that Lord Sugar describes small businesses is pretty much the way they feel treated: ‘Do this! No, no sorry, do that! Woops, you screwed up. Must be your fault.”

The fiscal, judicial, regulatory and bureaucratic systems are all stacked against smaller businesses. Rules seem to be written for organisations with means, access to expertise and advisers, and an institutional history in doing this stuff. Small businesses need to negotiate a maze of complexity that no regular business person has all the experience to master.

In analysing his own speech later, Sugar said:

“During the ceremony, I only got a mild ‘hear, hear’ – mostly from the Labour lot, but they’ll like me in the end.”

I will stand in front of the Palace of Westminster itself and give him a mighty round of ‘hear, hear’ myself if he can address the real, structural issues that are holding small business back.

No one wants something for nothing. A proper helping hand to succeed would be good enough.

/df



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