Whether it is knowing which individuals are directing small business policy from within the government or who is at the head of vital campaigning and pressure groups attempting to influence the direction of future developments, those at the helm of micro and small businesses need to be aware.
To keep you plugged into the fast-changing British business landscape, we are proud to launch our inaugural Small Business Decision Makers list. Segmented out into government, finance, champions, supporters and trade bodies, it features the 30 people we think you need to be knowledgable about.
While many rankings will include successful entrepreneurs and investors, we have only included those we believe will have a fundamental impact on the direction of small business policy and your ability to execute on ideas. Including those in senior positions at the likes of Google and Facebook is a reflection that these firms form crucial components of the infrastructure you build around your company early on.
The champions we’ve included are widely respected and looked to for guidance and advice when it comes to deciding on the best rules and regulation for young enterprise. In the finance space, the individuals selected cover a wide array of funding options, but we believe they are at the forefront.
Each year we’ll be revising the list to factor in changes in personnel, rising influential institutions of individuals and the creation of new bodies. To extend upon what we’ve done, Business Advice will be meeting and interviewing a select crop of the Small Business Decision Maker individuals over the next few months – providing even more insight into how they plan on making your life as an entrepreneur that little bit easier.
Sajid Javid – Business secretary
After Vince Cable became arguably the biggest name casualty for the Liberal Democrats during the May general election, Sajid Javid was brought in to take up the business secretary mantle.
Since his appointment, he has frequently sought to emphasise his entrepreneurial links, which instilled in him “an unwavering belief in enterprise, opportunity and reward for hard work”, as well as a commitment to the UK’s small businesses.
He used his hometown of Bristol to quickly unveil an Enterprise Bill to simplify Britain’s business environment, along with his priorities when it came to smaller firms.
Key proposals included cutting at least £10bn of red tape over the next five years to help small firms grow both at home and overseas. Reiterating that small businesses were the “engine room” of British industry, Javid has pledged to get “heavy-handed” regulators off their backs.
As the secretary of state in charge of the overall department, strategy and policies, Javid is the person responsible for all big changes in legislation that will affect firms of all sizes, so his decisions are ones small businesses should constantly keep an eye on.
Anna Soubry – Small business minister
The minister of state for business has only been in her new position since May, but she has already targeted a long-running issue for many small firms – that of late payments.
The culture she hopes to change has seen businesses shifted from 60-90 day payment terms – already a challenge – to 120 day periods. A study from the Asset Based Finance Association claimed firms with fewer than 250 staff were owed £64.7bn in unpaid invoices – up eight per cent from £62.5bn in 2014.
She said it was all about “letting businesses get on with what they do best, while taking sensible action to support those that need it”. While the small business commissioner won’t have the power to say this is unlawful, she hopes by championing the little guys, they will help to change the culture by working with them.
“It’s not about punishing companies. It is about good practice,” she said.
As the holder of a new position focusing on small firms, Soubry is responsible for business sectors (other than construction and rail), enterprise, the British Business Bank and access to finance, local growth, export control and deregulation – all big concerns for small firms. As the key player in government looking out specifically for smaller businesses, Soubry is the individual firms will want to make aware of what’s proving a hindrance to their day-to-day operations. After all, she’s encouraged everyone to get in touch.
The next London mayor
The two frontrunners battling it out to succeed Boris Johnson are currently Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith and Labour MP Sadiq Khan.
Goldsmith is the son of the late billionaire financier James Goldsmith, while Khan is the son of a Pakistani-born bus driver – brought up on a council estate before later becoming a human rights lawyer.
Goldsmith is well known for his environmental stance, though both are opposed to a third runway at Heathrow. However, Johnson has repeatedly claimed he heard regularly from business leaders “who demand that we implement what they take to be the conclusion of the Davies report, and go for a third runway at Heathrow”.
The main concerns for small businesses however, were flagged up in an FSB study, and will be the same for whoever wins over the voters to take over from Johnson. More than half of the FSB’s London members mentioned the rising cost of commercial space as a problem, along with the soaring residential property market.
All the mayoral candidates welcomed the FSB research – along with Khan and Goldsmith, the Green party’s Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon reiterated their support for the capital’s small firms. Resolving the housing and workplace crisis will be a big ask for the next London mayor, but a sure-fire way to win the support of small businesses based in the city.
Whoever succeeds Johnson will be in charge of promoting the capital’s economic development and has the power to bring about changes that will help achieve this. London can be a tough place for small businesses to survive, but it’s still a thriving hub and micro firms will want to keep an eye on who is appointed as their policies will have a knock-on effect reaching outside of the capital.
Lord Young – Enterprise advisor
Lord Young of Graffham, David Young, may be in his eighties now, but his tireless work for small businesses hasn’t let up.
A former government minister for Margaret Thatcher, he operates nowadays as David Cameron’s enterprise advisor – “the genesis of it started 32 years ago when I was introducing the YTS [Youth Training Scheme],” he said.
During his tenure, Young has produced several reports: “Common Sense Common Safety”, looking into the way health and safety practices stifle risk-taking in business; “Make Business Your Business”, focusing on small and medium-sized businesses and how best to foster development; and “Growing Your Business”, moving on to micro firms. Then in 2014, there was “Enterprise For All”, an exploration of how enterprise can feature within education, and earlier in 2015 a report on the changing face of small business over the past five years.
Another feather in Young’s cap was the establishment of Start Up Loans in 2012 – with the aim to make entrepreneurship as “abundant in the UK as it is in the US”, and two years on it has lent more than £74m to budding business people.
As the enterprise advisor to the prime minister, Young is particularly important to small businesses, with his ear to the ground, actively searching out ways to improve Britain’s business climate for them. He has done, and continues to, make a significant impact on the way government sees the future of business and particularly small firms – making them a higher priority.
Stephen Foreshew-Cain – Government Digital Service
The former COO of the Government Digital Service (GDS) took over from Mike Bracken in August 2015, with a flurry of headlines speculating about the reason for Bracken’s departure and the mass exodus accompanying him.
For more than four years, Bracken had been the spearhead for digital transformation within public services, though he felt reluctance within Whitehall that ultimately meant he decided to move on. Foreshew-Cain has a challenge on his hands – while Bracken still felt excited about what the GDS was trying to achieve, he said “the stresses and strains of this job are almost impossible to tell people before you start”.
Foreshew-Cain, meanwhile, said that his route to digital transformation would be “a relay” rather than a sprint or a marathon. He recently revealed the cabinet office had helped the government save £1.7bn through digital technology transformation. This was achieved by managing digital and IT spending requests, transitioning website to gov.uk and transforming public services.
There is, he says, much more in the works – “we’ve already saved £3.56bn over three years, and we’ve barely begun”.
Being at the helm of the Government Digital Service, Foreshew-Cain is leading the charge to make public services less complicated. He is a vital person for small firms to know – his team’s work has gone a long way to streamlining the government’s IT strategy, which impacts on everyone. The creation of gov.uk for example, has been hugely successful as an information tool for small firms, as well as enabling consumers to carry out important functions online.
Ed Vaizey – Digitial economy minister
The culture minister is responsible for digital industries, with an ongoing concern of his being cyber security among UK businesses. In June 2015, he published the Information Security Breaches Survey 2015, showing the rising costs of malicious software attacks and staff-related breaches and revealing that for small firms, the most severe breaches can cost as much as £310,800 – up from £115,000 in 2014.
Government-backed Cyber Essentials is a scheme he has repeatedly pointed to as an initiative which can help protect businesses of all sizes from the internet’s common threats.
In July, he unveiled a new £5,000 government grant for small firms to boost cyber security, part of a package aiming to improve the resilience of the UK’s businesses to cyber attacks.
Under the umbrella of his responsibilities, Vaizey covers digital economy strategy, culture, media, creative industries, telecoms and digital infrastructure and cyber security. His position was something he said he “basically lobbied” for himself, based on the belief the government too often worked in silos and needed a more overlapping approach.
Other funds Vaizey has been instrumental in arranging including a new £4m fund for the gaming industry to help small firms and a £1m fund for new and growing creative businesses based outside of the capital.
With small firms leading the charge in creative, professional and digital industries as shown in a Centre for Cities report, Vaizey is arguably the most important cabinet minister to know after Javid and Soubry. The overlapping of his responsibilities to incorporate digital industries means incoming changes should have a wider and more effective impact.
Angela Eagle – Shadow business secretary
Much was made of the numerous shadow cabinet ministers who stood down in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn winning Labour’s leadership contest, as shadow health minister Jamie Reed resigned before Corbyn had finished his victory speech, and the likes of Rachel Reeves, Tristram Hunt, Yvette Cooper and Emma Reynolds all followed suit.
The shadow business secretary at the time, Chuka Umunna, also stepped back following disagreements on the EU, and Angela Eage was appointed to take over his role.
She feels the government must do more to support strategic industries and sectors and wants more support provided to the “green economy” and tangible progress made regarding the UK’s ongoing productivity problem.
While in opposition, and not in charge of bringing about new policies, Eagle will be an important presence in challenging the government on any perceived failings or missed opportunities when it comes to businesses, as she has already shown recently. Eagel has been a vociferous supporter of Britain’s ailing steel industry. Following the announcement of 1,200 UK job losses by Tata Steel, she said, “with each passing day there is a new blow to the industry which is now on its knees”. Eagle called on the government to work with the European Commission and China to “relieve the pressure on the industry”.
As the MP who was famously told to “calm down, dear” by Cameron, after she spoke up during Prime Minister’s Questions, its fair to say she’ll be getting her view across just fine.
Keep reading and visit the next four pages to find out about our other 2016 Small Business Decision Makers.
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