#SupportWelshBusiness – erm, that’s it
#SupportWelshBusiness. There, that’s pretty much it. It’s all there needs to be said about the economy in Wales right now. I could go on, in fact I am going to go on, but if you take one thing from this blog, it is that. Think of it as the TL/DR version.
For a five minute version, please watch the video below.
Completely separately, but entirely related to this is an opinion piece I stumbled across in the Financial Times recently. It posited the idea that UK governments should stop providing financial support to small and medium-sized businesses and concentrate on large-scale companies.
The argument was that SMEs are disposable and will be replaced, or replicated, while large national, or even multi-national companies, are plugged so deeply into the UK economy that they cannot afford to fail.
They employ more people, both directly and indirectly through supply chains or even whole communities built around one plant (Port Talbot being an example). And if they were to fail, tens of thousands of jobs would be lost and communities would never recover (see former coal mining towns in the valleys for further details).
This, the columnist concluded, could irreparably damage the UK economy, setting us back years and ultimately lead to another Great Depression, swarm of locusts and world-ending meteor strike. (I might have made the last two up).
The reasoning was reasonable, carefully worded and played very nicely to the audience it was intended for i.e. not small businesses, but business and political leaders. It was a lobbying piece.
Disrespectfully, I disagree, i.e. you can fuck right off son!
As a small business co-founder I may be slightly biased in my view, although no more or less biased than big business wanting more support for big business. But I find the notion that small businesses are disposable and easily replaceable as nonsensical as a fish playing tennis, with a jelly racquet, and a cannonball.
I offer you this POV. A coffee shop closes down, then a few weeks later another sprouts in its place or just across the road. Some jobs are lost, but they don’t affect whole towns, or countries. I get that.
But the argument ignores the wider issue. The person who lost their job at the coffee shop has to find another job. Because they weren’t working for a massive company there is little in the way of financial support, retraining, redeployment etc. No politicians are lobbying ministers on their behalf.
It is a very personal and very lonely experience. It impacts on their mental health, their family, their income. They may need to take another job quickly to make ends meet because they have bills to pay, families to feed. They can’t weigh up their options or follow their dreams. There is no time.
So they gratefully take a job when it is offered, even if it is a zero hours contract and they don’t know from one week to the next how much work they will have. They also can’t then get another job to work alongside because the hours vary.
They may hate the job, hate the company, the manager, the commute, the time away from their kids, or their studies. They may take a credit card, or a loan to get by, which eats into their monthly income, meaning the household budget is stretched even further. That brings increased stress and depression. They may not be able to work because of it and end up on benefits. And so the circle goes on and on and on. They are trapped.
When a big company fails, everybody hears about it. Everybody is sad and shocked and supportive. The TV cameras, radio mics and photographers are there to feast upon the misery. It is tweeted across the world. There are hashtags, gofundme pages, messages of solidarity, politicians looking solemn and concerned with their arms around upset workers and their families.
But if you lost your job in a coffee shop, none of this happens.
Now, multiply that one coffee shop by hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands.
Depending on which Google result you tap on, anything between 40-60 per cent of small businesses fail within their first five years.
One result claimed as many as 600, 000 small businesses could fail this year.
If that’s true, and I’m not saying it is because, y’know, the internet, if each of those business employed on average two people, that’s 1.2 million people out of a job.
So, Mr FT opinion writer, tell me that 1.2 million people out of a job isn’t going to have a profound effect on the economy. And of those theoretical 1.2 million, how many will have to take the first job offered and face a cycle of low-income, hand-to-mouth, increased pressure existence. And what is the longer term impact on the country in terms of financial support through benefits, social care, health care and loss of tax revenue through lower wages.
Big business likes to believe it takes longer term view of things, but its view is always very narrow, and self-focused. That’s not a completely negative thing, nor is it the sole preserve of big business. There are lots of businesses, organisations, people, politicians and governments which have similar views.
But without the broader view, without seeing the whole picture, without seeing not just one small business fail, but tens of thousands like it and the impact that brings, then we miss the opportunity to make things better and to end the cycle.
I’m not saying don’t support big business. They still employ millions of people across the country and have a massive role to play in our recovery. But I don’t think supporting big business over and above all others is a productive, rational or responsible thing to do.
Yes, small businesses fail, for many reasons, and yes, they can be replaced. But what are the longer-term, broader, cumulative effects on the nation? That’s why small businesses need support. That’s why we made this video. We met loads of really amazing people all doing their bit to support each other, their community, to do something different, or to do something in a different way.
Each of the businesses we featured was run by passionate, dedicated people who cared about more than the bottom line. And there are thousands of small businesses across Wales run by people who feel the same way. That can only be a positive thing for the economy and for communities.
That’s why we’ll be doing all we can to tell these wonderful stories, highlight these amazing people and support companies which are trying to make things better one small step at a time.
Alex Feeney is a co-founder and director of EatSleep Media, a production house which makes cracking content showing what an organisation is doing but in a way its target audience finds entertaining and informative. He also hosts the Accidental Startup podcast which tells the stories of entrepreneurs, their experiences, their decisions and what they have learned along the way. The Accidental Startup is available on Apple, Spotify and most other podcast providers. Follow EatSleep Media on Twitter.
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