All this swap and change is bad for SMEs

SMEs face uncertainty.

Last week I sat for an hour or so with a couple of entrepreneurs. They have both founded more than one business and are both heavily involved in helping to promote the UK’s start-up and small business economy, one through Start-up Britain and the other through Young Brits and the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance. As often happens when you talk to entrepreneurs, the discussion turned to the relationship between government and business and the role government plays in promoting a better environment for those running a business. Both were clear that the UK has a long and noble tradition of an economy built on small business, with several references during the conversation to Napoleon’s description of a "nation of shopkeepers".

The consensus, as it often is, was that government’s role is to create the conditions for start-ups and existing businesses to grow and thrive and then get out of the way and let them get on with it. "We need an end to this constant political need to announce new initiatives," said Alex Mitchell, co-founder of Young Brits. In short, both wanted a bit less government. In fairness, the stated ambition of most politicians for the last 20 years (and maybe longer) has been reducing red tape. This chimes well with entrepreneurs, but all the talking has hardly resulted in less regulation. The current government has made a lot of its commitment to red-tape reduction. It has appointed two "entrepreneurs in residence" at BIS, launched a Red Tape Challenge and promised that all new legislation will be introduced on a "one-in, one-out" basis.

It was interesting last week to see a number of legislative announcements within a few days of each other, all purporting to make life easier for those running businesses. At least two of them will impose new reporting requirements on some or all listed companies. What’s given with one hand in terms of easing the burden on businesses seems bound to be whipped away with the other.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act is intended to make life easier for those running small businesses and in large part it has been welcomed as achieving that by those it aims to help. But as is often the case, simplification is complicated and the new rules and regulations surrounding areas such as settlement agreements will require entrepreneurs to put in time and effort to understand them. In the long-term there may be benefits for those running SMEs, but in the short term the time pressures may increase. The entrepreneurs last week were clear the best red tape reduction policy of all would be for the government to just stop doing things. A moratorium on any new policy announcements would be the best initiative.

Less welcome in some quarters (judging by reactions to our story on it) was the announcement of changes to the Companies Act requiring listed companies to divulge information in their annual reports on subjects such as diversity (giving the breakdown of the number of men and women on their board, in senior management positions and across the company as a whole), the company’s greenhouse gas emissions and human rights, as well as a new strategic report that focuses on the business model, strategy and risks to replace the existing business report. Even those who welcomed some of these changes (partly out of desire to see this narrative part of company reports be more useful) reacted negatively to the tight timetable imposed, with the changes due to come into force from 1 October, 2013.

Elsewhere, the EU was also trumpeting simplification while adding in a degree of complexity for some companies. The abolition of mandatory quarterly reporting was welcomed by most, but the requirement for country-by-country reporting in certain sectors was less welcomed by those affected, although it will please those keen to see greater transparency in reporting. The new accounting framework also reduces reporting requirements on small and micro businesses, although the category of micro business is a new addition to the regulations.

These are just some of the recent changes announced and all from last week. The net result of all this change is uncertainty. One thing that those at the sharp end, running businesses, talk about is the need for greater certainty. The confidence to invest in their businesses, which is ultimately what will be behind any sustained economic recovery, depends on it. Perhaps it is time for the politicians to leave business to just get on running and growing their businesses.

This piece first appeared on economia.

Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Cree is the Editor of Economia.

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Piers Morgan struggles with the idea that anyone might ever refuse an opportunity to go on television

The Good Morning Britain host has contradictory beef with Ewan McGregor.

Has it been a while since you heard what Piers Morgan thinks? Are you shaking from withdrawal, refreshing your Twitter feed, unsure whether Kanye is or isn’t a narcissist? Well, fear not, the Mole has a fresh fix for you. After Ewan McGregor dropped out of appearing on Good Morning Britain today, a new take was born. Actors’ opinions are stupid, but also, actors should come on Piers Morgan's show and talk about their not-important views.

McGregor, who was meant to be promoting Trainspotting T2 on the show, tweeted this morning he had cancelled because of Piers’ (obviously half-baked) opinions on the Women’s March. “Was going on Good Morning Britain, didn't realise @piersmorgan was host,” McGregor wrote. “Won't go on with him after his comments about #WomensMarch.”

What truthbomb had Piers dropped to provoke this? That it was unfair women were protesting and where was the MEN'S march. A march for men! As if running our parliament, corporate system, legal industry and creative sector isn’t enough! They should probably all do a walk too! Poor men. No wonder the patriarchy is on its last legs. They must be so weary.

Still, hats off to Piers Morgan. It takes a real personal flexibility to maintain the title of Contrarian Extraordinaire of the Our Glorious Nation. By which we mean that Piers Morgan will think literally anything, if the money is right. Whether it’s writing that Kim Kardashian is so awful she caused someone to have a stroke, or that he loves her for being herself, the man is so darn unpredictable. 

Morgan accused McGregor of being "just an actor", and that he should be “big enough to allow people different political opinions”. Once again, he asked the age-old question: are you an enemy of free speech if you won't go on someone’s early morning television show? This might be alien to Piers, but people don't have to go on television if they don't want to. 

And what if Ewan had appeared on the show chatting about his film? “Happy to appear on my show for your film, but not happy with my opinions? Classic money-driven actor,” the inevitable Morgan tweet would have read. It's quite easy, this Piers Morgan lark. No, it isn't. Yes it is. Cheque please! 

I'm a mole, innit.