Posted: Fri 6th Sep 2013
When Enterprise Nation took its second group of British start-ups into No 10 Downing Street to talk about the real issues affecting small businesses, there had been no hint that there would be some ministerial cuddles being handed out.
But that's exactly what happened when a bunch of crafty businesses met Under Secretary of State for Further Education and Lifelong Learning, MP Matthew Hancock and top Government adviser Daniel Korski.
Lizzie Slee (@lizziepin) is Enterprise Nation's PR and media whiz
The shenanigans kicked off when Joy of Ex founder and author of comedic slogans like 'I'm in a Love triangle with Ben and Jerry' Sally Beerworth told the round-table group how every time she came into contact with authorities she felt like she was being told off - or was in trouble.
"When I meet the bank manager, he's telling me off, when I speak to the tax man and he's telling me off and when I speak to my accountant, he's definitely telling me off. Why? Shouldn't these people be welcoming start-ups with open arms? It's time for a 'Hug a Small Business Person' campaign!"
The collected start-ups were delighted when Mr Hancock happily embraced her at the end of the discussion - a moment that was sadly only captured on Mr Korski's camera as the rest of the group had all had to surrender their mobile phones on the way in.
A 'Thank You' from the Government
Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones agreed there needed to be some kind of Government acknowledgement or a 'thank you' at the very least sent to everyone who starts a business.
She said: "At the moment, the first thing you get when you start a business is a form telling you how to pay tax and a bill for national insurance. There really is a role for the Government to make starting a company exciting for people - and a positive message they would undoubtedly pass on to fellow entrepreneurs."
Give small businesses a break
National insurance and council tax breaks for people who work for start-ups was an idea from Troo Heath-Crew, founder of British furniture house Tree Couture. She said she found it hard to get people to be part of her business partly because rents are so high. Because of the nature of being a start-up, she claimed people were looking for long-term jobs for bigger firms because of the rent commitment.
This was echoed by Joe Smith, from Joseph Smith Designs, who said he knew a lot of creatives who would like to run a business, but don't feel they can because of having the pay the rent. Troo also pointed to the fact that she has struggled to find furniture craftsmen to work with. She said: "I trained at the London School of Furniture, which is now part of the London Metropolitan University, and I see they are now selling off one of the buildings. "We think finding British-trained craftsmen is going to get more and more difficult."
Kite mark of quality
Mr Korski raised the question of whether a kite mark might help to differentiate genuine British products made by crafters from products made overseas. James Boardwell from Folksy said this was something that his company had been looking in to. He suggested a system similar to the AAD and DDD sound recording terminology system. He suggested this could help to be more specific about whether a product was designed in Britain, made in Britain or made with British products and a higher rating would have all three.
The Design Trust's Patricia van den Akker, who was born in Holland, suggested an investment tax break system for families who invest in businesses run by siblings, children or relatives. She claimed this was a big way of raising capital and also forms a big part of crowdfunding, an idea that was treated with interest.
Jane Field, founder of online craft business Jonny's Sister, said she had made the most of the Government's apprentice scheme and had trained many new crafters that way. But she added that it would be useful if the Government's financial contribution lasted longer and was higher, because she felt that each apprentice took at least five hours a week in a one-to-one, and they were not ready to produce for nine months. She felt the Government contribution should last four years because of the enormous commitment from employers - especially start-ups. Health and safety for toy regulations are necessary things - but officials can be bullying, it was said, and the tests are expensive, which make them prohibitive for start-ups.
Was there a place for self-certification here, and common sense approach asked Sinead Kohler, founder of the Crafty Fox Market. The issues were listened too with interest. "We are all ears," Mr Hancock told them. There are record numbers of start-ups and we want to hear the specific issues they face so we can change things for the better."
Hopefully the fact that he immediately hugged Sally means the rest of the suggestions could see the light of day too. Power to the people!