Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Blame can wait... what we need are solutions that work.

If one were to listen to the Banks you would be hard pressed to understand why so many businesses are complaining about their reluctance to support them and, that if they do, are only willing to do so on the most penal terms. ‘We have money and we want to lend’ is the oft repeated dictum but the reality on the ground seems to be very different.
In today’s reality those deemed to be worthy of support either don’t need it or, as is the case with a growing number of businesses, don’t want it. On the other hand those who do require their support are disqualified simply because they do. Lewis Carroll would have been proud of the situation we have created and would, perhaps, have nominated the Queen of Hearts as the next Governor of the Bank of England.

In today’s world the first thing one seems to be required to do is to determine ‘who is to blame’. The Banks for creating the mess in the first place? Is it the government for lacking in leadership? Is it the economic incompetence of the previous government? Perhaps, it is The Bank of England and the regulatory authorities? The press and a variety of economic commentators for persistently, and consistently, undermining confidence? Possibly, even, the reluctance of businesses that can invest in the future simply stockpiling cash while they sit on their hands waiting for someone else to blink? I think I can save a great deal of time, to a lesser or greater extent it is all these although, actually, blame can wait. What we need are solutions that work.

Given the recent banking crisis few, if any, would argue for an unregulated orgy of lending but what is required is a source of lending that can be accessed by growing small and medium sized business that doesn’t attract penal rates of interest or the need to put forward their ‘first born’ by way of guarantee. We also need a process in which decision making is transparent, fair and timely. Too many businesses are being required to go through opaque drawn out processes costing them time and money before being told that they have been successful, or worse, unsuccessful.

Whilst I do not share the more extreme views of the ‘doom and gloom brigade’ I strongly believe that the economy needs an injection of growth. There are a number of measures that can be taken but one must be to deliver more financial support for small and medium sized businesses. Delivered with care encouraging sensible lending to this sector will enable it to flourish whilst simultaneously delivering the economic growth we need. The government, the regulators and the banks were quick enough to get round the table when the latter needed support it is about time they sat down and sorted things for the rest of us.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Business people ask for little other than to be able to operate on ‘a level playing field’

Over the years I have noticed an increase in the impact of holidays, sporting events and other national celebrations on doing business in the UK. Come Easter it seems as though someone has fired a gun and then, as a nation, we metaphorically prepare to pack our buckets and spades. This year, though, we are experiencing the phenomena ‘with bells on’. An additional bank holiday, the Euros, the Olympics followed by the Paralympics added to the usual menu of Wimbledon, the ever growing number of cricket matches and so on.

What the impact of all this is depends very largely upon who you ask. The more optimistic will argue that all this activity encourages people to stay at home and spend their money here rather than on one of the Costas or some Greek Island. At the other extreme those with a somewhat curmudgeonly disposition might argue that all this jollity is more likely to result in hell and damnation raining down upon us all. If you work for Transport for London I guess it’s an opportunity to threaten strike action unless their employer’s handover payments additional to already agreed overtime rates.

For most employers the only choice is to manage the impact as best they can within the confines of the already penal legislation governing employment. No one seems to be too concerned as to how all this affects them and now, joy of joys, we find that they are also required to compensate staff struck down by disease or injury, whatever the cause, whilst they are on holiday. Goodness knows what those dear people in Brussels will think up next.

Actually I enjoy all these supporting occasions as much as the next man, and it was a delight to take part in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but I do strongly believe that we need to consider the impact of all this on small businesses in particular. Business people, and I don’t mean the greedy few that are regularly featured by the national press as being representative of the business community, ask for little other than to be able to operate on ‘a level playing field’.

Our competitors in other parts of the world look upon our employment laws with incredulity, the Americans simply do not comprehend how businesses on ‘this side of the pond’ can afford to allow such generous holiday entitlements. Nonetheless I am not arguing that entitlements be reduced, just that the employers obligation to compensate staff for being sick whilst on holiday be wiped from the legislation. It is, frankly, nonsense.