Going for growth – the real enemies of enterprise

As we approach the UK's budget statement tomorrow, there's been a lot of of talk about 'enemies of enterprise' and bureaucracy stifling growth. It is also clear that if we are to see a recovery in employment in the UK and other Western economies, it has to be smaller firms who drive this; big firms alone won't be enough, especially as many will no doubt continue to ship jobs to cheaper locations in less developed economies.

So, given that I am (part) owner and MD of two dynamic small businesses, where do I see the barriers to growth in my little world of consultancy and publishing? Well,bidding for public sector work can be a nightmare, and there is no doubt it could be simplified. But we mustn't lose sight of the positives of the UK approach; we do generally have a pretty incorrupt system of public procurement, unlike probably the majority of countries in the world. The danger of all these more 'flexible' procurement routes is that I won't win any work because I'm not mates with the right people, a Freemason, or I live half a mile outside the Hampshire county boundary (so I'm not a 'local supplier' to that council..)

But to me, the biggest barrier to enterprise is the problems with employing people. And because of those problems and risks, we just won't do it.

I am tempted; a bright graduate researcher / writer would be a sensible addition for Spend Matters right now. But where do I start? The complexity of tax and NI; maternity and paternity regulations; unfair dismissal, bullying, sexual discrimination; employment tribunals; health and safety; pensions and age discrimination: the list goes on and on.  I don't think we would be a bad employer, but if we made one bad judgement decision on a recruit, it could sink us completely. And I just don't have the time as a very small business to handle all this. Indeed, that's why big firms don't kick up too much fuss about these issues; they provide genuine barriers to entry for smaller firms and favour bigger who can afford HR specialists and lawyers on tap.

It's quite easy being a one or two person business; a couple of owner directors works fine. But if the UK really wants Spend Matters and thousands of other firms of our size to expand, recruit, and compete in global markets, then you've got to make it easier for us. (Corporation tax is an issue, but one or two % here or there doesn't seem to me a huge issue). Wondering how I'd cope with my one employee b*****ring off for 6 months parental leave, or having to defend a bullying claim because I asked him / her to turn up on time is what really drives my behaviour.

Now a lot of the regulations come from the EU - the Agency Worker's Directives are the latest nonsense to emerge from the political elite in Brussels. But some are UK driven, and the Chancellor has the chance tomorrow in the Budget to do something about it. I hope he takes that opportunity.

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