Sorry, Sir Richard, that’s not it…

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SOUTH KENSINGTON — There was a piece in the Independent yesterday about Sir Richard Branson’s “three point plan” to get the UK economy going.

Unfortunately the plan is completely pants.

I wish it weren’t, but it is.

Years ago, when I worked in politics a very worthy husband and wife team approached my cabinet ministers with suggested legislation: A Good Samaritan bill.  The bill was to recognise that restaurants, food stores and food services companies throw out masses of food everyday.  And yet many, many people didn’t have enough food to eat.  The only reason this happened — they said — was because you could be held liable if you gave people food that made them ill.

The Good Samaritan Bill would solve that “by absolving people of all legal responsibility for the food they made available…”

What?!

I was so surprised by how wrong that was that I couldn’t even talk to the proposers.

Today Sir Richard proposes a plan that would:
– make it much easier for businesses to hire and fire young people
– offer small entrepreneurs easier access to small amounts of money and
– reducing time spent at university

And I feel the same kind of confusion.  Why would it be better for businesses to be able to take on more people for shorter periods of time?

Do we believe in the fairness of our laws, or not?  Do we want to protect people from the pure business drivers of companies?  Or are we happy to have them bought and sold, hired and fired, compensated appropriately, or not?

The appeal for business is obvious.  Any business manager could see that.

But for young people?  It’s much harder to rationalise.  I have no doubt one can rationalise it… But should you?

The same unfortunately goes for micro-finance for entrepreneurs.

Yes, small businesses account for much of the job growth in the UK.  Yes, entrepreneurs (like Sir Richard… like me) help bring better competition and innovation to our economy.

But that does not mean that if we could convince more people to to try it we’d get even more jobs and more innovation.

Creating and sustaining a business is the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life.  Without exception.  I am still not sure that God really meant for me to be an entrepreneur.  But we did really do all our due diligence, never borrowed, worked like crazy, fought off dragons, made millions of mistakes and only just scarped through.

Often I think it’s something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  Why would we decide that more and more and more people should do it?  How many more open and closed restaurants do we need on our High Streets.

And less time in university.  Really?

There are answers to this economic crisis.  Or certainly things we can do to help fix it.  But I am far from convinced that these are they.

Give me better managers and better trained and supported entrepreneurs… better skills… any day.

But not this.

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