From the top · 8 November 2016

Emma Jones exclusive: “This is a great time to export”

Emma Jones
Emma Jones has been at the forefront of the Small Business Taskforce

Through her work with small business network Enterprise Nation, Emma Jones has become a leading commentator and campaigner for the interests of entrepreneurs in Britain.

Business Advice caught up with Jones to find out more about the ambitions of the recently formed Small Business Taskforce and what the UK’s community of startups and entrepreneurs can expect as the post-Brexit landscape takes shape.

Jones is at the forefront of the new taskforce, and was instrumental in bringing together its 14 organisations to create a prominent new voice that intends to lead the conversation on the development of UK enterprise.

According to Jones, the “strength in numbers” approach will enable the taskforce to proactively engage with government to keep the needs of small businesses close to the top of national policy, particularly as it embarks on its mission to tie-up a range of global trade deals.

“We are reminding government that small businesses need support. It is the power of collaboration – 14 organisations coming together to create a single dominant voice.

“We are making sure that when the government is thinking of business, they will come to us. When developing new initiatives, we want it to say ‘test with your networks, and come back to us’,” Jones said.

The primary objectives of the taskforce are to push government to guarantee the resident rights of European workers, cutting corporation tax for employees, and to act as a direct facilitator between small businesses and decision makers.

Creating exporting opportunities for startups sits among the group’s recommendations to chancellor Philip Hammond. The group has promoted the introduction of export vouchers to get small businesses trading internationally.

As the value of the pound continues to decline, Jones highlighted the current conditions as “a great time to export”.

“If now isn’t the time for startups to begin exporting, when are we going to do it?”, she added.

Referring to the new-look government presided over by Theresa May, Jones acknowledged that since the small business community has been forced to patiently observe “a time of transtition”.

In terms of David Cameron’s legacy, Jones stated that previous administration “really understood business – enterprise was at the heart of government”, referencing the roles of Lord Young and Daniel Korski.

“These were figures who had come into No.10 from entrepreneurial environments and brought the conversation to the inside – but then the whole business unit moved out.

“Everyone needs time to settle in. May’s first meeting as prime minister was a roundtable discussion with small businesses. But after that initial meeting, everything went a bit quiet.”

“Understandably, the focus for the country and government has been on Brexit, trade deals, and working out Britain’s place in the world.”

However, Jones added that there were “positive signs” evident in May’s strategy, citing the prime minister’s trade visit to India as indicating an international outlook that would benefit small businesses.

Alongside her work with the Small Business Taskforce, Jones also has a hand in driving domestic public procurement opportunities for small businesses as part of the Crown Commercial Services.

Since July, she has been the small business representative for the service that oversees public contracts – following an appointment by minister for digital policy Matt Hancock – and has been tasked with encouraging the government to spend more with small companies, bringing entrepreneurs into the public procurement process. 

Jones identified three central strands to her current work as Crown representative; to simplify the public procurement process for small business, to promote the notion that government is “open for business”, and to connect enterprise with government.

“My job is trying to reconcile buyers and small businesses – effectively, getting them to say they like one another,” she said of her position.

Jones added that after taking the discussion to entrepreneurs around the UK, the most common grievance when it came to winning public contracts was the sheer volume available.

She noted that as they are private sector platforms, it is not possible for government to have a central hub for opportunities. Subsequently, it is her role to “create awareness and education” to support small suppliers in the procurement process.

Looking ahead to the next 12 months, Jones concluded that business opportunities for the UK’s growing community of entrepreneurs were there for the taking.

“This is a great time to export, for startups to sell to government, big businesses are looking to bring small suppliers into their supply chains – we need optimism.

“In a way, confidence is all we have as supporters of enterprise. If we decide that small business is a stable sector, then innovation and investment will follow that.

“Negative behaviour in the media could make confidence wobble – we can’t talk ourselves down into a recession, we don’t need that.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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