A politician, hearing I was ACCA’s head of small business, asked me ‘what’s the answer then’. I was flummoxed; it was like being presented with two squeezy bottles and sticky back plastic to build a nuclear reactor. If there was a simple answer, it would have been done.
Likewise, the small business chattering classes consistently asked David Irwin, the Small Business Service’s CEO, how he will wave a magic wand he does not have. But the SBS is the wrong instrument. The perception of business support puts enterprise agencies and business links in the dock from the start. Taking all the cash spent on business support since the 1970s, academics suggest it might have been better to give every small business a cheque.
I prefer to think the SBS’s problem is that it is as much a victim of an anti-enterprise culture as small business itself. The UK may be a good place for enterprise, but business is not valued as a part of the cultural fabric. In real life business support agencies have had major success stories. The experience of the SBS’s American big sister, the Small Business Administration, shows how business advisors can be full partners in enterprise.
Yet the SBS is tied to government, unlike the SBA, so the SBS becomes a dumping ground for business problems government departments have no intention of solving or of giving SBS the muscle.
In case you want to say, ‘the UK is a better place to do business than Europe’, don’t speak too soon. There are signs the Germans, maybe the French, have woken up to the need to get it right for smaller businesses!
– David Harvey shortly stands down as ACCA’s Head of Small Business to become chief executive of the Society of Trust and Estates Practitioners.