Government Urged to Back Britain’s Innovative Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses to Restore UK to Growth

Delegates at the National Enterprise Network Annual Conference have called on the government to prioritise support for the country’s small and micro businesses, entrepreneurs and side hustlers as the UK’s the best chance for economic growth.

The conference, held at Barclays Canary Wharf HQ, saw more than 200 businesses and leading industry experts, including Enterprise Agencies, Chambers of Commerce, LEPs, Growth Hubs and specialist training providers, come together to discuss how the power of enterprise could be best harnessed to boost the UK economy.

Debates focused around the need for the government to back the country’s small business sector if the UK is to avoid recession and achieve economic growth. Comprising six million entrepreneurs, small businesses account for 50% of the country’s GDP, 50% of its growth and 75% of its innovation.

Opening the conference, Alex Till, chair of NEN which represents over 92,000 businesses, said: “Research shows that business start-up activity and support provides £6.80 (GVA) for every £1 spent. If this investment generates such a high rate of return, we are looking to the government for a strategy to develop that support in order to take the UK economy forward.”

Martin McTague, National Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was critical the government put small business at the heart of their economic growth strategy.

“If we are going into recession and they are relying on the big corporates to pull us out, they are relying on the wrong market. In recessions, all corporates do is shrink. The only people that rescue economies from recession are the small businesses, the entrepreneurs who are prepared to take risk in to try to turn their business around.”

Andy Chamberlain, IPSE’s director of policy, said he hoped the new government would find inspiration from small businesses for a ‘big idea’ to help win votes by coming forward with an exciting package to encourage citizens with side hustles in a recession.

Speaking in a panel debate Small Business Commissioner Liz Barclay said she was concerned that small and micro business are not far enough up the government agenda because the government lacked experience and knowledge in the sector, but she was seeing the ‘green shoots’ of change. And she encouraged the sector to speak with ‘one voice’ giving government a consistent message on the benefits of small businesses.

New research on the small business sector commissioned by NEN was revealed at the conference by Shared Intelligence, raising concerns that recent changes in the business landscape and fragmented funding was putting vital small business support at risk.

Lisa McCance, director, Shared Intelligence said: “There is no national strategy relating to entrepreneurs and enterprise support for smaller and micro sized businesses. There are three core issues: businesses don’t see geographic boundaries, it is a postcode lottery as to what is available because the offer is fragmented and the offer is not consistent.

“Enterprise agencies are the consistent players to nurture talent – they provide the independent, experienced and knowledge-based advice on a day to day basis which provides mentorship, support, encourages growth and enables survival.”

She added that increasing the business support available to ethnic minorities was the ‘untapped unicorn’ of increasing growth – with the right support, the contribution of ethnic minority businesses to the UK economy could increase four-fold from £25bn to £100bn

Dr Liz Cameron MP, chair of the All Party Government All Party Parliamentary Group for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, said she wanted to see an inclusive entrepreneurship eco-system at the heart of government policy going forward.

“There are some six million small businesses in the UK often operating through our high streets. We know the barriers faced by entrepreneurs are huge, but they are the pulse of our economy, providing an essential element of our entrepreneurial economic system right across the UK.”

Will Hobbs, chief investment officer for Barclays, explained that history was clear about the triggers for successful economic growth – it relies on innovation and productivity underpinned by a culture of diversity which encourages tolerance of new ideas, enables high levels of education and has a degree of liberal democracy ensuring power doesn’t reside in individuals with vested interests but in broader organisations.

“Capital needs to be mobilised and policy needs to be developed,” he told delegates. “And we can only speculate on what the next big innovation will be which stimulates growth – it may be Artificial Intelligence or quantum computing, or something smaller – both the shipping container and the invention of the excel spreadsheet created major change in economic development. We cannot bet on a specific tech but on the human capacity to innovate, which is almost infinite.”