Just before I flew home to Canada I was asked by my inept agent, Tony Robinson OBE, to chair a ‘Question Time’ type debate at a large micro business conference in his home town of Scarborough.
Micro businesses (0-9 employees) are, apparently, quite important to the UK. There are 4.5 million of them and they comprise 96% of all businesses. There are up to 500,000 micro business new starts each year and newer micro businesses provide most of the new jobs and innovation. As it is, micro businesses provide a third of employment and a fifth of UK turnover.
With the right support over 80% of new micro businesses will survive over 3 years and 6% of these will become substantial employing businesses. The conference was the opportunity for micro business owners to tackle government and big company leaders on what they will do to ensure micro enterprise thrives in Britain.
The panel comprised of Will Scoop, MD of WhoppaStores, Sir Harry Gantwitt, former Secretary of State for Business and now Adviser to Investment Banker, JK Sexangold, and Robinson himself.
The clueless Robinson, Co-Founder of the Enterprise Rockers, was standing in for Bernard Ogbrush, Shadow Minister for Transport, whose train had been delayed because of sun on the tracks.
It was all a bit of a rush actually. The former Secretary of State was keen to return south almost from setting foot in Scarborough. Apparently he’d been intimidated by the seagulls, not because of their rather fearsome looks – heavily muscled, bald, tattooed and pierced – but because of their bad language towards him. Gantwitt blamed their swearing on binge drinking and vowed to increase the price of alcohol in pubs and clubs.
It wasn’t going to be an easy session to Chair. Robinson was useless and Scoop had already said to me he wouldn’t be able to comment on anything to do with fuel, alcohol, adult skills or women. This was because Scoop was not only MD of the WhoppaStores supermarket chain but also Director of the BigPubCos Trade Club.
In addition he was Chair of the Apprenticeship Services and WhoppaStores holds the UK employer record for receiving the most skills training funding from government. Scoop was also Chair of the ‘Equal Pay for Women in the Private Sector with Women in the Public Sector’ Committee. Basically he was working with Government on ‘confidential to policymakers’ solutions’ to just about everything and so couldn’t comment on hardly anything.
Gantwitt was coming into the panel not having endeared himself to all the micro business owners in the room by saying that the government was powerless on fuel prices.
His words were: ‘I know it’s difficult for those of you in road haulage and man and van firms but you’ll appreciate we can’t affect the price of oil and what is happening thousands of miles away from Britain. We’ve got an excellent public transport system in London and we’ll just have to use it – it’s greener too’.
I think Gantwitt is wrong about binge drinking too. Any local will tell you that seagulls are stealth drinkers partaking in a bottle or two of Rioja every evening with their meal.
I wanted the Question Time over as soon as possible. These were three appalling men on the panel which I couldn’t be doing with. Also, I’d spotted a rather nice evening gown, by Gino Cerutti, in Frockabella and wanted to claim it before the shop shut.
The following is a transcript of a segment of the ‘Question Time’, which will interest readers of The Small Business Blog. The question they were answering was ‘Do the panel think that micro business owners got a fair deal in the recent Budget?’
Gantwitt: Most definitely. The incentives they need to grow, we gave them. Firstly, they can now borrow lots to grow their little businesses into proper Smeese that solve our transitory unemployment blip. In fact who knows some of them may even be able to borrow enough to supply WhoppaStores in the future (a minute’s laughter ensued between Scoop and Gantwitt).
Scoop: Just to underline Harry’s point there. The government’s loan guarantee website makes it clear they should save £50k on a £5 million loan.
Robinson: Would anyone like a glass of water?
Gantwitt: Secondly, we incentivised them to reward themselves with a decent wage on a par with many of our advisers, by removing the 50p tax rate on salaries over £150k. It was stopping real entrepreneurs being entrepreneurial both as managers in big companies and Smeese too.
Me – Soculitherz (pronounced So-cool-it-hurts): Some say most micro business owners, real entrepreneurs, don’t want loans this size and that loans well under £50,000 are needed plus there isn’t anyone in the room that can afford to pay themselves anywhere near the wages you’re talking about.
Scoop: I’d like to come to the former Secretary of State’s defence here. The government is encouraging owners of Smeese to seize their place at the bottom of the supply chain to companies like ours. Frankly, they won’t get there without significant investment and reserves too. After all, the average time large companies, like mine, take to pay the bills of little businesses is 80 days. We do that for a reason you know and that reason is only the fittest survive.
Robinson: Would anyone like an extra strong mint?
Me: But how can micro businesses survive when your supermarkets take all their business away?
Gantwitt: Can I repay the favour and answer that for Will, Chair. Look this isn’t a ‘size’ issue it’s a ‘management’ issue When I was Secretary of State, my advisers …… by the way, my advisers knew a lot about small business, they even had them in their home doing repairs and stuff. My advisers worked very closely with Bill’s Senior Management team and only had the highest praise for them.
Scoop: Absolutely Harry and we’re indebted to national, regional and local government for supporting and investing in our expansion. What these owners of these little businesses need to do is get trained in management and hire lots of cheap or subsidised by the government, staff.
Robinson: Has anyone got a pencil sharpener?
Gantwitt: Spot on Will. This management skills gap means we’re lagging behind our international competitors in productivity and diversification. If you have the skills then it doesn’t matter who you are … a butcher or baker or candlestickmaker … you’ll manage through WhoppaStores doing better and cheaper what you were doing and you’ll already have transitioned to say … a clothes shop…
Scoop: ….. we do clothes…
Gantwitt: … or mobile phones…
Scoop: …we do mobile phones…
Robinson: Did we all remember to switch our mobile phones off?
Gantwitt: …or hairdressing, insurance … you get my drift. Would you credit …
Scoop: …absolutely, Harry, driftwood we don’t do.
I was going to challenge them on how bad the budget and current government policies were for both self employed and employed women, especially for those with young children. Then I remembered that Scoop wouldn’t answer such questions, Gantwitt wouldn’t care and Robinson would just blush. The only way out of this mess for Britain is to appoint women to all the top jobs in Government, the City and the top 100 corporates. Job done.
So I wrapped it up and reminded the audience that my latest book ‘Stripping for Freedom‘, despite being written with Robinson, was still selling well on Amazon.