01/04/2011

By Mike Southon
FT Columnist

The call from the press office of the department for Business, Innovation and Skills was unexpected, but very intriguing.

Mark Prisk, The Minister of State for Business and Enterprise was soon to be speaking at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) conference in Liverpool. He wanted to know if I might be interested in arranging a round table of local businesses during his visit. I leapt at the chance.

Then, real-life events intervened. On the morning of the Conference, Secretary of State Vince Cable was summoned to an emergency Cabinet Meeting to discuss the just-announced military action in Libya. Prisk was therefore drafted in to cover Cable’s speech.

This was unfortunately scheduled for precisely the same time as my carefully arranged round table. I explained to the Minister’s press officer that entrepreneurs thrive on change so we both set about re-scheduling the Minister’s agenda for the day.

Prisk first attended a breakfast meeting with the region’s local enterprise partnership (LEP). This consisted of an interesting mix of local politicians and business people and was chaired by the Labour Leader of The Council, Joe Anderson.

You might expect that a combination of very differing local agendas, both political and commercial, all looking to represent the varying views of their stakeholders would soon degenerate into an emotionally-charged talking shop, littered with complaints and point-scoring.

Instead, I was very impressed by the equanimity of the fifteen people around the table. All had the best interests of the Liverpool City Region at heart, and came up with very practical suggestions in a number of areas, including the precise deployment of the soon-to-be announced Enterprise Zones and an offer to trial any new initiatives Prisk might be considering.

This is not to say that the group felt The Minister was doing everything to their complete satisfaction. They pointed out that many local people still felt there was still considerable uncertainty between the dissolution of the local Regional Development Authorities and Business Links and the formation of the LEP, whose precise role and funding had not been clearly defined. The Minister agreed this was an issue and promised swifter action moving forward.

He praised the positivity of the group, especially as he had just come from Lancashire, where no LEP has been formed. His message to that region, which he also later expressed to the FSB Conference, was to “stop squabbling and get on with it.”

Prisk then had a packed schedule for the rest of the day. Next, there was a meeting with 200 local business people at the Town Hall, organised by local textile entrepreneur Tony Caldeira, followed by Prisk delivering Cable’s speech at the FSB conference.

As a Professional Speaker, I fully appreciated the challenge of delivering someone else’s material at short notice, without inadvertently redefining government policy by mistake. This was followed by one-on-one sessions with FSB members with particular problems, much like a constituency surgery, which later Prisk discussed with the Conference delegates.

My own, hastily rescheduled round table was entitled ‘How Liverpool is Beating the Recession’. The Minister heard the entrepreneurial success stories of senior people from St Helens Chamber, Liverpool Vision, law firm DWF, social enterprise the FRC Group, the BT Convention Centre and local SME pH Creative.

The Minister clearly enjoyed this upbeat session and promised to visit the Liverpool Embassy in London to learn more about best practice in the region and pass this information on to other enterprises.

As he said at the Conference, while there will hopefully be better economic news around the corner, it is not government who actually creates wealth, but us entrepreneurs.

Originally published in The Financial Times: http://www.ft.com
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing.

Mike Southon - Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker - http://www.mikesouthon.com

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