Climbing that mountain

With the right strategy, and with all government departments embracing the’think small first’ philosophy, I believe that we really can achieve thatvision.

As Director and co-founder of Project North East (PNE), a leading enterpriseand economic development agency, I have over 20 years experience of helpingpeople start up and grow their business. Since 1980, PNE has helped morethan 3,000 businesses start up and each year assisted more than 500companies who wanted to grow. It is this experience and level ofunderstanding that I hope will help me in my role as Chief Executive.

The SBS has been set three main tasks:
To act as a strong voice of small business at the heart ofGovernment
To help small firms to deal with regulation and ensure that theirinterests are properly considered in future regulations
To simplify and improve the quality and coherence of Governmentsupport for small businesses

This government is committed to supporting the small business sector. Thisis the first time that there has been a single, national agency responsiblefor all the government’s small business support activities – and the firsttime that there has been a named individual in the civil service whose soleresponsibility is support for small business.

I report direct to theSecretary of State for Trade and Industry; I sit on the Ministerial Panelfor Regulatory Accountability; and I have the right of access to the PrimeMinister if I feel the need to share issues and concerns.

Small businesses currently make up nearly 99 per cent of all businesses inthe UK and employ more than half of the total workforce. It is thereforeimperative that they are represented accurately throughout government.

TheSBS’s goals are
To help all small businesses realise their potential
To promote world class business support services to enhance theperformance of small firms with growth potential
To help promote enterprise across society and particularly inunder-represented and disadvantaged communities
To achieve the highest standards of service delivery and providevalue for money
To mitigate the impact of regulations on smaller businesses
To encourage greater use of the internet and e-commerce by smallerbusinesses.

Although we are part of government, we are a distinct organisation thatexists to help small businesses and ensure that these businesses are fairlyrepresented within Whitehall. We will do that by working with others withinGovernment, with people in the private and voluntary sectors and with thepeople who deliver our services to ensure that they think small first.

Wewill be a voice for small business at the heart of government with the aimof winning the trust of business.

We recognise the diversity of our clients from people who are consideringsetting up in business for the first time to established medium-sizedbusinesses that could benefit from our help. The Small Business Service isnot just about achieving short term results but long term success for allsmall businesses in the UK.

While our vision is looking five years ahead,an early priority will be to review all the current business supportservices with a view to developing a simpler, more coherent national smallbusiness support strategy.

We will listen carefully to what businesses arecurrently saying, identify factors that lead to business success and workwith government departments to ensure that there is a voice for smallbusinesses within government.

Business support will be delivered through 45Business Link partnerships which will be appointed following a rigorousassessment of outline proposals which began in February. The new networkwill be fully operational from April 2001.

Our network of Business Link partnerships will provide the client focus andseamless, integrated, world class service that small businesses of all typesneed to ensure they are able to compete on a global level.

We will listencarefully to our clients and seek regular feedback.

We will provide aflexible range of services appropriate to clients’ needs and their stage ofdevelopment, but of particular importance is our aim for regular feedbackfrom those businesses.

We recognise the importance of setting, and achieving, high standards.Teamwork, learning from others and continuing self-development will be oneof the keys to the SBS’s success.

We aim to share our learning and bestpractice widely, not just through encouraging it amongst our clients, butjust as importantly amongst ourselves.

We aim for the SBS to achieverecognition as an Investor in People, investing intensively in our staff andencouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in our partners.

We will takethe first steps towards establishing a Business School for Business Supportwhich will take the lead in ensuring that the staff of the SBS and all ourpartners are able to offer the best possible service to their clients.

We are very aware that red tape is a burden for small businesses and in thefirst year we will be establishing a strategy with a view to cutting thetime and cost of complying with new regulations.

We will encourage many more people to think about starting their ownbusiness and also provide special help for start-ups and micro-businesses inunder represented and disadvantaged communities. We shall be working closelywith the National Enterprise Campaign.

The road ahead is not an easy one, but it is passable. Over the next year,the Small Business Service’s strategy and targets will be defined to ensurethat the UK is a fertile land in which business can thrive. Within the nextdecade, we intend that the UK’s small businesses will be leading the rest ofthe world as champions of commerce. Together, we can make a difference.

David Irwin is chief executive of the Small Business Service.

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