This week I joined with other entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the UK at the Palace of Westminster to celebrate the first anniversary of “Get Britain Trading”, the campaign launched by the Forum for Private Business.
The keynote speaker, the Minister for Business and Enterprise, Mark Prisk, was enthusiastic in his support for both this initiative and the sponsoring organisation.
The Minister, who reports into Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (and President of the Board of Trade to give him his full title) is one of 7 Ministers who, with 2,500 civil servants, manage a current budget of £17.6 billion to implement policies to drive balanced and sustainable growth.
Mr Prisk’s area of responsibility is broad, ranging from business sectors, small business, enterprise and access to finance to competitiveness and economic growth, deregulation and better regulation, regional and local economic development, business support, Olympic legacy and finally export licensing. He is assisted, so he told us, by 70 civil servants, which does not seem many given the size of the task!
The first thought he expressed, in the context of these being tough times, was that we should all be “more American” in our outlook and ambitions. He encouraged us to look at the success stories around us with the expectation that these will give us the confidence to take bold growth steps in our businesses.
He confined his remarks to two themes, Exports and Late Payments, stressing the importance of success in both if a vibrant and growing UK economy is to be achieved. He also announced an extra £10m funding for trade missions to help medium-sized businesses secure contracts abroad.
On late payments he was keen to inform the audience that the Government, itself a major buyer of goods and services, is trying to lead by example by dealing with invoices within 5 working days. In addition, one thousand major companies have now signed the Prompt Payment Code. Both of these developments, he said, are welcome but admitted the challenge is gaining commitment further up the supply chain. He concluded by reminding us that some of the causes of poor payment are within our control. This was illustrated by his (alarming) statistic that ½ of UK business transactions occur without pre-agreed payment terms!
The Get Britain Trading Campaign has at its heart a number of Manifesto Objectives. These include tax simplification, skills improvement, better payment practices, improved access to finance, reduction in business costs and increasing opportunities for employment and growth.
Other “lobby groups” such as the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry and the Engineering Employers Federation may have different constituencies and emphases but are all agreed on the need to put in place a foundation for growth. Indeed, the Government itself has declared that growth is its number one priority and everyone is focused on it.
The business leaders appreciated the Minister’s comments but the remarks of the final speaker, the owner of Hughes Safety Showers, were equally impressive. A medium-sized business established in 1968, Hughes Safety Showers now sells its innovative, emergency shower products around the world. The Managing Director, Tony Hughes, suggested that the criteria for success in business are simple. “We need to be good at everything we do, but if we pick the right people, train them well and give them good direction, they’ll do the rest”. He concluded, to the audible agreement of many in the audience, “then all we will need is a banking system that will support us in our endeavours”.
Sustainable growth and business success can only come from within the organisation. The right business model; coherent strategies; innovative products & services; robust and value-adding systems & processes; committed, motivated and engaged people are the foundations on which a loyal and growing customer base may be built.
As long as CEOs and MDs put their trust in Government or the Banking system to make progress, or get them out of a tight spot, success will prove to be elusive. Both have roles to play but sometimes their impact can be no more than influential or marginal to a specific business situation.
While it is helpful to hear directly from the Minister, it is inspiring to know that global success is being achieved, right now (dare I say) in Stockport with the humble safety shower!