By Marcus Leach
The state of the economy has been the main topic of discussion between small business owners and politicians taking part in a ‘work experience’ scheme being run by the Forum of Private Business (FPB).
Approximately 100 ‘Business Buddy’ visits have been arranged. During the visits, politicians experience life at the firms and business owners are able to discuss the main barriers their businesses face.
Business owners taking part in the scheme have been asked to complete a survey about their experiences. In all, 87% of respondents said that the state of the economy was a major issue they discussed with their local political representative.
In addition, 66% of respondents cited ‘local business issues’ on their doorsteps as a leading topic of conversation, 66% mentioned regulation in general and 61% consumer and business confidence.
Further main areas of concern included levels of taxation, health and safety regulation specifically and workforce skills.
Other issues up for discussion were finance and banking, the cost of doing business and employment law, followed by the enforcement of legislation, tax simplification and pensions. Just 8% discussed transport and infrastructure with their MPs, MSPs and AMs.
“One of the biggest complaints entrepreneurs make is that the politicians who create the policies and pass the laws that affect them do not understand what it’s like to run a business," the not-for-profit Forum’s Head of Campaigns, Jane Bennett said.
“Many MPs, MSPs and AMs have never owned a small business or even worked in one. Business Buddy aims to address this by giving elected representatives first-hand experience of life at small businesses within their constituencies, hopefully helping to build relationships that last.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable, Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas are also among the MPs, MSPs, and AMs to have signed up to Business Buddy.
Mr Cable visited a furniture manufacturer in his constituency, Ms Lucas a fruit and veg shop and Mr Burnham is set to experience work at a chemical firm.
In addition, the Tourism Minister John Penrose spent time learning about abseiling and other activities in the Mendips in Somerset as part of his placement with an outdoor pursuits centre. Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin visited a pie shop.
Overall, 53% of respondents said they found the meetings ‘very useful’, 26% ‘useful’ and 18% ‘quite useful’. A total of 71% of participants said that their meetings ended in agreed action points and 97% said they would take part in a similar scheme again.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Small Business Minister Mark Prisk have backed the Business Buddy scheme.
“The Coalition Government is committed to making the coming decade the most entrepreneurial and dynamic in Britain’s history," Mr Cameron said in a letter supporting the initiative.
“To make this a reality, we need to understand the real issues that small businesses face on a day-to-day basis and use that information to help ensure that entrepreneurs are given every opportunity to successfully start and grow their businesses.
“I would encourage all members of Parliament to take advantage of this opportunity to find out what it is really like to run a small business and to gain a better understanding of the many issues faced by small businesses across the country."
Business Buddy is part of the Forum’s wider Get Britain Trading campaign, which aims to both raise awareness of the important economic role played by small businesses, and lobby for the Government to tackle common problems which prevent small businesses from growing and creating jobs.
As part of the campaign, the Forum asked its members what would help them to ‘get trading' and 74% said they would like their elected representatives to focus their work on small businesses in their constituency, and this is what Business Buddy aims to achieve.
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