With Mike Cherry moving on to pastures new at a national level within the Federation of Small Businesses, I’d like to introduce myself as the new author of this column.
I have a manufacturing and marketing background and have worked for the FSB since 2001. Currently, I manage the policy activity of the FSB within the West Midlands in support of our 18,000 West Mids members and represent the interests of small businesses to the political decision makers within our region.
A large part of that role is to ensure that new policies introduced by our elected representatives, do not overlook or disadvantage the smallest businesses in our economy. This involves ploughing through the many, many government documents, often translating them into plain English and highlighting the areas of possible interest or concern to my members.
There are many fine words spoken in these documents about the value of small businesses to the local and regional economy, but all too often this does not follow through in the policy details. Indeed they all too often make life a lot more difficult for small businesses.
For instance, the sub-national review talks about the Government’s plans to refocus both powers and responsibilities below the national level to support its objectives to encourage economic growth and tackle deprivation at every level.
The implications for businesses of all sizes are wide-ranging, but the report and current consultation is not easy for ordinary small businessmen and women to wade through. My role is to help them understand the key principles and ensure their input is relevant, effective, timely and useful. At many meetings, I come across highly influential people who have no real grasp of what is involved in running a small business.
They are often very well meaning, but seem unable to understand that a small business can only be successful if it is making a profit – thus ensuring its sustainability. Without this crucial reality, the taxes raised from businesses, the jobs for the people who work within them and the services these businesses provide to the community simply will not happen.
That’s all well and good, but why can’t businesses represent themselves? The answer is they can, but as there is little understanding of just how all-consuming running a business can be it is often very difficult for businesses to find the time.
The meetings where businesses are expected to attend are often held at the most inconvenient times for small business owners. They simply don’t have the time or staff to leave their businesses for half or whole days to ‘engage’ in the political decision making processes. Invariably small businesses are run by a single person, with all the responsibility for the success (or failure) of the business resting with that person.
Taking time out of the working day for something that does not immediately benefit their business will not be viewed very favourably. The FSB is a member-led organisation, and staff like me work to support and advise our members on key issues that will affect their businesses. Put simply, I save them time, which is after all their most precious resource.
So when members are able to attend a meeting or find time to respond to a consultation or survey, they can do so certain in the knowledge that their input will be valued and understood and they are not wasting their time.
* Denise Craig is the West Midlands policy manager for the Federation of Small Businesses.