Interesting start to the New Year with press, politicians and even the 1% elite all discussing equality - or rather inequality. And there's been some very diverse comments from all over the place - not least those people with millions of pounds like Sir Martin Sorrell, insisting economic equality does not bring prosperity. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/23/davos-wpp-martin-sorrell-equality-prosperity Personally I don't get his logic and I keep wondering - if 1% of people will own 50% of the world's wealth by 2016 (according to Shelter), and as that 1% seem very keen on buying things like diamonds and Ferrari's, how are Governments going to keep any reasonable economic strategy in place?
Surely we are going to get to a stage (if we're not already there) where no one except the 1% can afford to buy property - which can't be good for the building sector; more and more people will be relying on food banks and charity - which can't be good for farmers or the food industry; less people will be able to afford to run a car or afford the very expensive public transport - so less people will be able to get to work and; little luxuries like a holiday, will become a thing of the past for many families - not good for the travel and hospitality industries. It makes no sense to squeeze the 99% and in particular the so called 'middle class' to the point they are no longer predominant consumers because the 1%, with all their wealth, can't replace them.
As for SMEs - well many SME owners have been considering inequality for a very long time. For example, we don't think it's fair banks can abuse small businesses with complicated and sometimes fraudulent financial products and nothing is done about it. Similarly, access to funding and, even more importantly access to justice is not getting any easier. I know this is a gong SME Alliance has been banging since we were formed but, unfortunately it needs to be banged!
However, we are absolutely determined to make 2015 a year of progress and not just moaning. So we have started the year with two very important letters - one to Andrea Leadsom MP and the other to John Griffith-Jones and Martin Wheatley at the FCA. The point of our letters is - as things stand SMEs have little or no representation in the world of financial regulation. On the one hand the FOS are so limited in what redress they can give it is of no use to SMEs (some of whom have lost millions) and on the other hand, the FCA doesn't deal with individual cases. Yes it does deal with systemic issues and it does come up with blanket resolutions for redress but, given the effects of financial misconduct impacts differently on every small business affected, how can one generic formula resolve them all?
Big question - will we get replies?
I hope we will. I remember a good friend who is probably one of the 1% (oh yes, we at SME Alliance have no prejudice) telling me some time ago when I was writing to the newly formed FCA about a specific bank fraud, I was missing a trick by not writing directly to John Griffith-Jones - who, he insists, is one of the good guys. Maybe he is. I can't see why we wouldn't get a reply or why the FCA would not want to open a dialogue with a collective group of SMEs? Aside from anything else, we have a ton of information about the banking sector which becomes increasingly more powerful when cross referenced across the membership. I also think we'll get an answer because "it's good to talk" and this year we're focusing on positives.
So fingers crossed. We've also asked Andrea Leadsom to help us address this gap in regulatory agencies that leaves SMEs out in the cold. Both letters are on this website in the 'Public Interest' area. http://www.smealliance.org/public-interest.html But, if any member would like to forward either or both letters to their MP to further the cause, send an e-mail and we'll send pdfs.
Another positive this year will be our next meeting (date to come) on the subject of positive banking. We've done some research and there are various ethical sources out there - if you know where to look. Ironically there was an article in the press today saying the FCA is also looking at alternative funding and specifically peer to peer funding. They are concerned the public could be unprotected from rogues in this growing market. I'm not going to make the obvious comment - it would be negative!!
In general I don't like January. It's cold, damp and I didn't get an invite to Davos so I won't be whizzing down the ski slopes. All the same, I'm pleased 2014 has gone and I think 2015 will be much better for everyone. The very fact so many people have recognised and are talking about inequality has to be a good thing. I'm sure the resolution won't come over night and there will be lots of opposition. But there's an election coming and the one thing the 1% don't have on their side is numbers. Four million plus SMEs with 20 million plus votes should have a voice. We just need to direct that voice in the right direction. Starting with letters like the two we have just sent asking for positive communication.