The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is urging the Government to follow through on plans to give small firms greater influence over its enterprise policy, following the latest meeting of the Small Business Forum on Thursday, 10 January.
The FPB’s Policy Representative, Matthew Goodman, said that meetings of the forum, which take place every two months, provided a rare opportunity for the FPB to air its concerns and lobby Competitiveness Minister, Stephen Timms, face to face.
“We can appreciate that the Minister does make a real effort as part of the meetings of the Small Business Forum,” he said. “The next few months will be critical as the Government drafts its Enterprise Framework, and the Small Business Forum must play a role in deciding how that framework is to be implemented. Provided that the right changes are made, there is a real opportunity to give the forum, and the small firms it represents, a very real say in shaping the next ten years of enterprise policy.”
In October 2007, government adviser and entrepreneur Sean Taggart resigned from the forum because, he believed it had failed to give small firms a voice in Whitehall.
Mr Taggart, the Managing Director of Albatross travel in Maidstone, Kent, claimed in his resignation letter that the forum had become ‘merely a tick box for an SME engagement agenda’.
“I resigned because I believe that the forum cannot deliver anything meaningful for either government or business,” said Mr Taggart, speaking to the FPB about his decision. “It is not independent, being chaired by a minister, and the agenda is set by the Government and not business. The time available is limited and it is insufficiently resourced. The forum should be run by businesses for businesses, and there to inform government.”
He added: “Look at the Business Council for Britain, which has access to the highest levels of government. The gap can only be bridged if the will is there at the very top.”
Following his attendance at Thursday’s meeting, Mr Goodman said there were signs that the forum was set play a more significant role, and argued that its direct access to the Department for Business and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) would be of more assistance to smaller firms than the influence enjoyed by the Business Council over the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
“The forum, at first glance, does appear to fail to provide appropriate levels of access to the upper echelons of government,” he said. “However, the FPB believes that it is both useful and necessary, even though the Business Council, composed of big business representatives, enjoys a higher profile.”
The Small Business Forum was set up in 2007 to replace the Small Business Council, as part of the Government’s review of the service it provided for around 4.3 million small firms in the UK, including more than 25,000 members of the FPB.