When we started SME Alliance about 6 months ago, one of our main objectives was to lobby on behalf of SMEs. Why? Because one of our main issues was and is – that SMEs make up a huge sector that no one appears to be listening seriously to in a way which might then lead to real and practical positive changes. That is why a recent invitation to talk to the Prime Minister's private adviser on small businesses was so important and why we were very pleased to attend a meeting at 10 Downing Street on Friday. And while we can't say the Conservative party has the answers or resolutions to all the issues we have raised, we can say that, at the very least, they were prepared to listen to what we had to say – and that is, we think, a positive step forward.
Let me say first, for those members wondering why we didn't announce the meeting before it happened – well we wanted to splash it across twitter in big letters “SME ALLIANCE INVITED TO NO 10 DOWNING STREET.” However, we are aware that while social media is what caused SME Alliance to be created in the first place and has been incredibly positive for us, it does also have its
I did manage to talk to many of our members before the meeting so we could get a view of the key issues members wanted to raise but the meeting was set up at quite short notice and it just wasn't possible to phone every member!
How the meeting went.
The meeting was with Daniel Korski who is the PMs private adviser on SMEs. He's a nice guy and was very easy to talk to – so a very good politician. I won't sugar coat things by saying we agreed with everything he said or that we felt the Government is really aware of some of the issues we raised but that's why we went – to start making them aware and open a dialogue – which we believe we have done. For example, on one of the key issues which has affected many of our members i.e. the mis-selling of derivatives and the difficulties in getting appropriate redress, Jon Welsby has already got back to Daniel with a document laying out our major concerns and pointing out the need for SME representation in finding a solution. I'm sure Jon will elaborate on this in a separate blog.
Two things Daniel pointed us in the direction of which SMEs should be aware of are a) the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill:
and b) the proposed Small Business Conciliation Service which will be introduced if the Conservatives win the next election:
I haven't read the Bill although I obviously will (280 pages) but, we can only hope it offers real help to SMEs and is neither too complex or technical to be of practical use.
We were particularly interested in the idea of a Conciliation Service as this would appear to go some way towards our suggestion that there should be an alternative to costly litigation when things go wrong for SMEs. We have a meeting coming up at BIS and we hope to learn more about this.
The points we discussed at the meeting were; Bank misconduct and how it affects SMEs; Failures in regulation and how we fall through the net; Funding – it still isn't working effectively; Insolvency law – friend or foe and; Lack of representation/support for SMEs at Government level – why are SMEs ignored? Obviously a one hour meeting was never going to be enough time to resolve any of those issues. However, our main objective was to introduce SME Alliance, voice some of our concerns and start a dialogue whereby we can follow up in greater detail. We also wanted share our ideas for positive progress for SMEs. I think we achieved all of that although I'm well aware we have a huge mountain to climb before we can ensure the SME sector is given the recognition it deserves.
Without doubt, the most important thing about the meeting was the fact it happened! We're a young organisation and in a very short space of time we have been able to shout loud enough for the current Government to want to talk to us. And while both we and Daniel Korski acknowledged the good work done by organisations like the FSB, I think he accepted the point that SME Alliance is SMEs representing SMEs. We're not paid to do what we do and we have a unique insight into running SMEs because we are the people running them. But, until now, we have rarely been the people talking to those who make the policies that affect our businesses. How can that be right?
So yesterday was an important day for SME Alliance. We have broken the ice and started to do what we set out to do. As I said, we have a meeting coming up with BIS and, on the back of our letter of 16th January, we also have a meeting with Andrea Leadsom MP and Guto Bebb in the near future. Hopefully we will also get the opportunity to talk to other political parties?
After the No 10 meeting I had a very positive meeting at the Metro Bank with Derek Granville who is hosting our meeting on 31st March. Interestingly I got the impression while at No 10 and while we were discussing funding issues that the Government is very aware of how important Metro Bank and other new players in the banking and funding markets are. And, as the word spreads about these alternative and more ethical funding solutions, I find it strange the big banks can't see what a huge opportunity they are missing by their lack of support for SMEs and their continued intransigence over resolving legacy issues.
I did make the point to Daniel Korski, besides the obvious need to talk to politicians, the people SME Alliance also really need to be talking to are the Bank CEOs. That is not as far fetched a suggestion as it sounds. As Nick Gould, our Co-founder and common sense lawyer says – let's break down the silo's and get rid of the 'them and us' scenario we have in the UK, in that way everyone should benefit.
On a lighter note - when the film Love Actually was made, they reproduced an exact replica of the staircase in No 10 and I was immediately reminded on Friday of Hugh Grant dancing his way down them. Walking up the stairs to Margaret Thatcher's old office, which is where we had the meeting, I couldn't help but wonder if David Cameron has ever done his own boogie down them? I even asked the young lady showing us to our meeting place if the PM does dance down the stairs? She said no! In my opinion this shows considerable restraint on the part of Mr Cameron because the temptation must surely be huge?
Anyway – very positive meeting on Friday and not least because all communication is, in itself, positive. I'm sure we'll have some have some feedback or updates to share on 31st March on how we are progressing re political parties and what positives they are proposing for SMEs after the election. In the mean time we need to keep shouting. I think SME Alliance has shown how SMEs should be heard and can be heard. We need to shout louder and for more SMEs. This will be an interesting election and SMEs could come out of it very well if we keep making people aware we exist and we are crucial to the future of the economy.