Our Westminster Hall Debate on Self-Employment arose from a discussion on how few of our contemporaries had gone into business following graduation, and in speaking to schools in our constituencies that little has changed. The economy, local and national, depends on a new generation of entrepreneurs looking to set up their own business, therefore we seriously need to address the reasons as to why they are not.
The debate was attended by around 30 Conservative MPs, all of whom had been in business before their election, showing that this is a real concern for many colleagues and needs further attention from the Government. On looking into this issue we found two main areas of discussion; how do we change the attitudes that prevent people from considering setting up a business and how do we create the right of environment to allow such business to prosper?
The current school curriculum for business studies, studied by around 60,000 pupils at GCSE, provides abstract understandings rather than practical experience of the realities of business. It is only through schemes such as Young Enterprise that students can achieve real experience. Not only are the current education courses irrelevant to the challenges and rewards of business, it’s also disengaging.
Society also has a role to play in the pervasive negative perception of business; that it is grubby and greedy. Every time a politician talks of pay being too high, greed being bad, or about unacceptable capitalistic practices, they should be aware that however good their intentions, the effect is to undermine the status of business in the minds of the population generally, and specifically children.
We need to make clear that everyone creating a business is also creating jobs, growth and paying their taxes. This is as much a positive contribution to society as a teacher, doctor or social worker.
One way to raise the prestige and provide the relevant experience of business would be the introduction of a Higher Education institute where pupils are taught by people with business experience and where they create and run a real business as part of their degree level qualification.
During the debate our fellow Conservative colleague, Nick de Bois, presented a very good suggestion: that those Higher Education institutions that offer courses with a year in Industry or ‘sandwich courses’ for business studies, should offer students the choice to use the finance available for that year to create and run a business. We were very pleased by the immediate positive response from the Minister during the debate.
Any desire to run a business must be matched with the right environment to do so. The Government as opinion formers can change attitudes but equally importantly it needs to address the more tangible and necessary aspects of business. Upon speaking to start-ups, entrepreneurs and other representatives of business the most commonly cited headwinds they have to face are taxation and regulation, access to finance and cash flow management.
Complex taxation is a problem for all business small or large but in new businesses the problem is magnified with limited time and resources to deal with it. Relatively simple reforms such as combining PAYE and National Insurance Contribution’s means no double form filling and account periods.
New businesses rarely have the luxury of savings, previous profits or lenient backers to rely on and therefore lead a month to month breadline existence, with cashflow being a major problems for these businesses. Should Government departments be willing to pay all invoices to SMEs within 10 days of invoice a positive precedent would be set.
Regulatory burdens can choke a small business, With the UK being ranked the 89th worst country for the burden it places on business we clearly have a way to go. We think there is a strong case for the Government to consider the timetabling on new regulations, so that they all fall on one day a year giving companies the chance to prepare adequately.
The Government’s measures to date have been encouraging, especially the ‘Business In You’ initiative launched this week. We also welcome the objectives of Sir Richard Branson’s Youth Investment Fund, a new initiative to create finance for young entrepreneurs.
It would be naive to suggest that we can achieve over night change when some of these problems are so entrenched. However this is the right time to start change. We have a Government of business, an economy in desperate need of an entrepreneurial boost and, as Conservatives, a parliamentary party with the knowledge and appetite to create this necessary change. We hope that our debate on the self-employed will be the start of a genuine examination into changing attitudes towards business, giving them the skills to start up their own business and changing the regulatory environment to help them become successful and proud self employed business men and women.