"In some cases MPs are approached 100 times a week by lobbyists," said David Cameron, in February 2010.
About the time, in 2010, that David Cameron was saying that the "£2bn" lobbying industry was the "next big scandal waiting to happen" I was licking my wounds after losing my latest round of battles with the "crony capitalism" he was attacking.
I'd had enough of battling with my SFEDI peashooter, based on research of business owners' needs, against the tanks and drones of Sector Skills Councils and RDAs dominated by large corporates, the CBI, British Bankers Association and the professional lobbyists. I was in retreat. There is a photo, which I've provided of the final meeting of the Ethnic Minority Business Task Force, where I was so ashamed that nothing would come of business owners' recommendations that I hid in the picture - a stick of Scarborough rock if you can spot me!
Putting my foot in it
Worse was to come. As it was clear from the Doug Richard reports that Business Link could not survive, I spent many days on various committees consulting with the 'powers that might be' asking for 'private sector solutions to private sector issues' so that Government should stop wasting huge sums trying, and failing, with growth schemes, incubators, consultancy schemes, loans and grants to existing micro and small businesses. Leave established businesses to the private sector - it is enterprise. 6% of all startups will become substantial businesses but no-one can pick these 'winners', not even Government or Dragons. Watch out for 2015 as the year of 'scale up' - it is folly.
Government's only interventions should be at pre-start and for the first 18 months of a startup. Quality advice with test trading and filtering out those 'not ready to start' can mean over 85% of start ups still trading after 3 years. I wanted the return of the Business Volunteer Mentors Association (BVMA) through the Enterprise Agencies network.
The BVMA was a volunteer army of business owners, in England, which mentored pre-starts and startups in addition to professional business advisers (such as accountants, book keepers and SFEDI accredited generic business advisers). Imagine my horror to find that volunteer mentors, some of them with only corporate business experience, would replace professional business advisers in many of the new Coalition Government's startup programmes.
Retreat and re-group with the 'Power of Plenty'.
I won't bother you with my other losses at that time, but the upshot was I exiled myself to Malta to write a novel. Shortly after I returned, suntanned and fat, having eaten too many pastizzi and chocolate ice cream, I co-founded and co-funded, with the fab and glam Tina Boden, the Enterprise Rockers CIC.
Enterprise Rockers, as a self-help community/movement would not do battle with Government and Corporate Britain. We are not political, do no lobbying, no representation, have no members (because we don't ask for contact details) and because we're indie and free can unite networks across the world. We have a simple self-help aim, which is, 'to make business life better for micro enterprise owners everywhere'. We are the 'Power of Plenty'.
After three years, we've managed to get to the point of achieving our first, global #MicroBizMattersDay on 9 January 2015 where micro business owners will give 9 minutes to help each other on getting more customers and/or improving cashflow.
However, I've kept blogging with my enterprise support policy recommendations on BusinessZone since 2010. I've tried to provide solutions and warned of disasters waiting to happen. The disasters are happening today because the Government does not take into account the views of 'normal' small and micro business owners.
Instead, Government's view of 'normal' enterprise is provided by lobbyists and special advisers who put large corporates first - because they pay their wages as employers, suppliers or sponsors. Almost without exception, these are graduates that don't understand that higher education and conventional business studies know how are little use when you're starting a business.
They don't understand people like me. I've been starting and running my own, 'normal' businesses for 28 years and despite a set of fab, post graduate qualifications and ten years in senior executive corporate roles, I don't speak the same language as the senior civil servants, career politicians, lobbyists and spads. It is why I've been totally unsuccessful with them. At least, I hope it is, not that my ideas are barmy - I'll leave you to judge, below.
Micro business sense or just plain barmy?
THREE WAYS THIS GOVERNMENT CAN HELP 5 MILLION BUSINESS OWNERS
- I've campaigned against the use of the phrase 'SMEs' (Small and Medium Enterprise up to 249 employees - 99.9% of all UK businesses) which the media conveniently change into the term 'small businesses'. This allows the Government, Sector and Regional bodies to get away with policies that do not help 95% (5 million micros) of businesses with 0-9 employees. I want all Government policies to state how they will impact on micro enterprises. All the growth and new jobs are from self-employed people, with no employees and little intention of having employees. It is cheap as chips to start up but the self-employed are getting poorer and poorer as an uneven business playing field makes it harder to make ends meet. The #VATMOSS debacle, reported well by Business Zone, is proof of policies that are based on assumptions of how micro businesses trade rather than the reality.
- I've campaigned for Government to use its influence with the organisations it funds to ensure that cash is flowing in Britain. Many 'Enterprise Rockers' have thrown in the towel because of the cost and hassle from unfair payment terms of 31 to 120 days. They can't afford to refuse the business or upset a client by taking legal action. So, they use credit cards and informal loans to keep going but it often doesn't work out. Local, regional and national government could insist that any organisation they contract with to supply Government e.g. Capita, G4S, Maximus, Atos, A4e, Universities/Colleges, BT or that they fund e.g. banks, supermarkets, energy companies - e.g. apprenticeship funding must pay ALL their suppliers within 30 days or lose the contract. Instead, we've had 20 years of prompt and late payment codes, arbitration, reviews and panels but in 3 years we've only found 4 large companies paying all suppliers within 30 days. It's all spin and procrastination just like the 20-year 'war on red tape'.
- I've campaigned for test trading on Government start up programmes, and help from a qualified business start-up adviser/coach, to be obligatory before a business plan is developed or a pitch for Government loans, allowances or grants takes place. This allows Government to filter out businesses not ready to start and allows the business owner to modify their products, services and income expectations (£10,000 personal income in the first 18 months is normal not failure). I reckon that in 5 years time the current Start Up loans, average £5.5k a pop, will be regarded as big a disaster as Learning Credits and Student loans have been. The Business Bank will sell the loan book, like they have Student loans, as they'll be struggling to collect the debt - two out of five startups, I predict, could default.
Yay! But #VATMOSS gives me hope
These three unsuccessful campaigns are personal and not representing any organisation. There is no organisation or influential lobbying group that will take these recommendations on board until they realise that the 95% of businesses in the UK that are micro (0-9 employees) demand change. These people have jobs which mandate that they remain within the Government 'tent' in order to receive Government favour and, even, corporate favour e.g. sponsorship. subsidies, grants, employment support, training support (e.g. apprenticeships).
Scotland, like New Zealand, Canada and Malta have shown that micro-enterprise friendly policies and support are possible and create a thriving economy, social responsibility and employment opportunities for all.
In England, 95% of business owners not being helped by Government policy or allowed to have a fair chance of earning a reasonable living (earnings of self employed people are 20% down from 2007) - to survive and thrive. The only people making money out of this sorry affair are politicians, senior civil servants, corporate executives (especially banks, utilities and telecom), lobbying organisation staff, government funded providers and delivery partners (eg. Capita, Serco, Atos, Maximus, A4E. BT etc).
The hope is that all the self employed people that have come together to take action against VAT MOSS will have found their voice. It is tough, I'm one of the few micro business owners able to put their head above the parapet - it's tough getting customers and crazy to upset them because of your views.
I'm Tony Robinson OBE, the Micro Business Champion, a business owner, professional speaker and the author of the popular satire 'Freedom from Bosses Forever' (Kindle, paperback and audio book). I'm the founder of the SFEDI Group and co-founder, with Tina Boden, of the Enterprise Rockers CIC which organises and presents the annual, global #MicroBizMattersDay.
2016 was the 30th Anniversary Year of our primary business - The Business Advisory Bureau Limited/Entrepreneurs UK and the 20th Anniversary Year of my founding the UK Government recognised Sector Skills Body for Enterprise and Business Support, the SFEDI Group (includes the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs), which I still co-own.
I was honoured to receive an OBE in 2001, and two Lifetime Achievement Awards for Enterprise Support - in 2012 from the IAB and 2013 from SYB magazine and have appeared in the Fresh Business Thinking and Smith and Williamson Power 100 of influencers on UK entrepreneurship in 2014 and 2016.