From the top · 8 January 2016

Ian Cass: Give small businesses a level playing field

ian_cass_fpb
Ian Cass

For the Forum of Private Business’s (FPB) Ian Cass, small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. Named as managing director in May last year, his tenure has seen the organisation engage more proactively with government and its agencies on behalf of its members.

Formerly the FPB’s sales director, Cass has been instrumental in moving the organisation forward. As one of our 30 Small Business Decision Makers, Business Advice caught up with him to find out more about the role of the FPB in setting the agenda for small business. As a not-for-profit support organisation, the FPB supports primarily private companies employing between one and 25 staff throughout the UK.

With regulatory responsibilities seemingly growing for small business owners every year, Cass sees one of the primary functions of the FPB to be that of support. “Businesses need more proactive and preventative help as regulation and compliance seems to grow every year,” Cass said.

“The government seems less inclined to do this, relying on a digital self-service approach. While government should be providing a lot of the support to small business, the FPB will be doing more of it, working alongside appropriate government departments.”

Compliance with regulation is increasingly a problem for FPB members, and the organisation is working tirelessly to make things easier. Cass cited all dividend payment changes, auto-enrolment, the Living Wage and online tax returns as key areas in which small firms struggle. “The message to government is: make it simple for us to do business and give us a level playing field to operate on,” Cass urged.

“We are trying to be increasingly active in terms of prevention rather than just cure. So, in providing the answers and solutions that small businesses need, we aim to take more of the weight and hassle of regulation from business owners, creating space to enable them to do what they do best, growing and developing their business.”

Amongst the FPB’s current priorities, late payments to members are a big issue. The FPB has developed a “hall of shame” – identifying those companies members have experienced bad business practice with, and established the role of small business commissioner. “The digital world is another key priority,” added Cass, And “the issues and opportunities this presents for our members.”

FPB member businesses gain support, advice and protection via a 24-hour business helpline and insurance packages, alongside offers from partner organisations that may save time and money. Cass is keen to point out that the FPB membership package is constantly evolving, in tandem with the wants and needs of its members.

Alongside the day-to-day support of its members, the FPB lobbies government to make sure small business voices are listened to. “We try to be proactive and solution based in our lobbying work which seems to be welcomed at government level and hopefully means our voice is heard and acted upon,” said Cass.

“We talk to all our members regularly, send out referendum questionnaires quarterly, and then the answers and issues that members respond with form the basis of our lobbying at Westminster,” Cass explained. “I feel we are truly democratic in issuing our questionnaires regularly to all members, not just those who attend regular meetings or regional events,” he added.

As 2016 kicks off, Cass is starting to see the FPB membership grow and diversify. The organisation is attracting younger startups from a plethora of sectors. “New members are joining with younger boards and from growing industries,” said Cass. “The aim is to continue to add value to them via membership of the Forum.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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