Conference 2013 took place at The Curve in Leicester from 21 – 23 March 2013. Hosted by Naga Munchetty, we had a packed program featuring world class speakers like Justin Urquhart-Stewart, Rt Hon Vince Cable, Business Secretary, Peter McAvoy from Google, RT Hon Owen Paterson MP, Chuka Umunna MP, Jon Ashworth MP, Leicester South, Nicky Morgan MP, Loughborough and our motivational speaker who needs no introduction, Toyah Willcox.
National Chairman John Walker opened Conference on Friday by welcoming delegates both in the venue and watching from afar, like John Harris (past Chair), who often watches from his home in the USA. Delegates also had an apology for the promise of snow from David Nicholls, Regional Chair of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire & Rutland, and Sir Peter Soulsby, City Mayor for Leicester, followed by saying the City has a rich and diverse culture that lends itself to small business. Nigel Eaton, Vice President Head of SME from Visa then started a "flow-ometer" to calculate how many visa transactions there would be with FSB Europe over the duration of the conference. It reached over 17,000 in the first 20 seconds! FSB evidence prompted the Government to launch an investigation, along with the FSA, into interest rate swap agreements, and now the 40,000 people estimated to be affected are able to claim refunds and banks have had to set aside £2 billion for compensation. To conclude John Walker spoke about the successes that the FSB had had influencing the budget, and raised those areas that still need to be addressed including business rates, large businesses settling invoices with small businesses in a timely manner and access to finance.
In Conversation with the Business Secretary
Delegates warmly welcomed The Secretary of State to the stage for what was an open and honest summary of the state of the British economy. Following the Budget on Wednesday, he spoke of the importance of the budget content in terms of housing, National Insurance and petrol costs and expressed how the Government had "done something" to assist business given the current restraints. He described the FSB as an "effective group" that targeted issues facing small businesses. He spoke at some length about the mis-selling of Interest Rate Swap Agreements (IRSA), and how they had done "great harm" particularly to small businesses. The economy is showing little growth and in 2008 suffered a "heart attack" with the collapse of banks and damage to Government revenue, this has held back growth. However, there is room for optimism as the UK economy is predicted to grow faster than the rest of Europe, including that of Germany. He remains optimistic as Britain has not suffered mass unemployment and he predicted that in excess of 600,000 private sector jobs could be created during 2013. There are more start-ups than ever; 6% of which are entrepreneurs, this is expected to rise during the next 2 years to 9%. The Secretary of State talked about export markets and how this is an area of growth, particularly in China, India and Russia, but that there remains access to finance issues for some British companies to tap this potential.
Justin Urquhart-Stewart limped onto the stage with a walking stick refusing to describe how he had got his knee injury, but went on to deliver a fast paced, lively, informative and hilarious account of the state of the global economy opening his speech with one word; "confidence". He described the media as driven by a need to sell newspapers and finding ‘that negative headline', he told the audience how it was the role of all business people to tell the good stories and that there is no need to panic - the global economy is in fact doing quite well despite the largest "financial explosion" in living memory. On the USA, Justin reported that the US is in a state of denial- but can carry on because it holds 65% of global reserves in US dollars. Actually the US economy is doing quite well he said, because they are still building houses, are bringing manufacturing back to the country, driving unemployment down and thus company profits are rising. He compared how the US Government dealt immediately with their own banks to how the British Government is still treating the likes of RBS with a sticking plaster he said that they should be treating the issues much more radically. Justin described how Eurozone businesses were doing quite well, Spain and Portugal exporting at record levels, and that the UK is the World's 8th largest manufacturer, and 10th largest exporter. His message was clear: confidence would drive this success. Describing more good news for the UK economy he told the audience that the UK exports more cars than it sells into the domestic market, and that Sheffield now produces more high quality steel than it has done for 30 years. On how Government can support economic growth, Justin shared his thoughts on fixing the banking system, supporting innovative ideas like crowdfunding and other localised funding where local knowledge and opportunity could be properly developed, and said that the Government spent too much time "tinkering around the edges" and not enough time looking at the "big picture". The economy is "damaged not doomed" he said.
Peter started his presentation by saying that he has been with Google for just over eight years. Throughout that time he has seen the challenges that small businesses face and has enjoyed helping them grow and to bring in new business. He asked us to think of past television programmes, in particular Star Trek, and look at what devices they have inspired for the future. For example, Star Trek had a mobile device that you could carry in your pocket and that could provide information on it. We now have numerous smart phones with this capability. Another episode of Star Trek saw Mr Spock looking at a hand held screen, we now have tablets, something to which 50% of the audience admitted to having when asked the question. But, Peter asked, how can small businesses deal with a shift in communication culture? The answer seemed to be to look at what the consumer wants and how you currently operate. Do they match up? If not, what steps can a small business owner take to make them run closer together? With mobile usage integral to everyday lives and six in 10 people feeling compelled to use their mobile device at least once an hour there are many opportunities for small businesses owners to adapt and adjust to this moving market. Peter’s key points included: find out how your customers want to engage with their mobile, your number one priority should be to build a mobile website. Concluding, Peter said that small businesses owners should go and think about what they would change because in 2013 people can't go without their mobile phones and that experience needs to be built into your customer's experience of your business.
The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, North Shropshire MP and Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Mr Paterson was preceded by a DEFRA video outlining the benefits the internet and broadband has brought to a variety of small businesses. With 50% of FSB Members owning rural businesses, measures on cutting rural red tape, supporting rural food and drink, and the funding available to rural SME's was of great interest to the audience, with applause and comments peppering Mr Paterson's speech. Poor mobile coverage alongside broadband was acknowledged by Mr Paterson as a real issue for rural SME's, which he had taken on board from the FSB's ‘Missing Links' publication. The FSB's recent budget ‘win' with the cancellation of the proposed 3p fuel rise was highlighted, but Mr Paterson acknowledged that rural transport policy still had some way to go to meet the needs of the roughly 85% of FSB members reliant on their vehicle. Local transport needs ‘local solutions' which he encouraged FSB members to be a part of this work stream. Mr Paterson noted the value the FSB's Keep Trade Local campaign, re-launched at National Conference, could offer to championing British products, and stimulating towns in rural Britain.
Chuka Umunna MP
Chuka Umunna MP for Streatham and Shadow Business Secretary commented that this is the first time he has addressed FSB Annual Conference, that it is an honour to be asked to speak and started by stressing how important small businesses are to the economy. Chuka stressed that we must start to get the economy moving again. Demand is weak – not for every business, but for far too many. He also stressed that there was little to stimulate high street spend. Chuka referred to Labour's Small Business Taskforce – a report for business people by business. The report is bursting with 100 practical ideas such as: Access to finance - more competition, peer to peer lending and diversity in the small business lending market; Cash flow - too many small businesses are effectively bankrolling bigger businesses that refuse to pay them on time; Skills - the lack of technical and engineering skills, as well the need for young people to have the right attitude for work and to be "job ready" are crucial; Better infrastructure - from access to superfast broadband to a fair deal in the energy markets; Energy - small businesses consume like residential consumers but small firms get nowhere near the same protection; Regulation – sensible measures to reduce the burden of regulation needed; Exports - huge amount of demand out there in the global economy, which is set to double through emerging markets; Small Business Saturday UK: Chuka announced that a UK Small Business Saturday – to celebrate and showcase small businesses contribute to their local economies and to encourage people to shop at small independent businesses in their local area – will start on Saturday 7 December this year. Chuka concluded by recognising it is incredibly tough at the moment for small firms but because he sees so much drive, passion, great customer service and innovation in small businesses all over the country, he is hugely optimistic about the ability of small businesses to meet the challenge.
FSB Policy Chairman Mike Cherry hosted a policy session to close day one of the conference, welcoming the Business Minister Michael Fallon MP and Toby Perkins, Shadow Business Minister, to the stage, followed by an audience with three Policy Vice Chairmen. Issues raised by delegates and debated focused on the function of Local Enterprise Partnerships, small business finance and banks, business productivity, infrastructure and business support. Other issues discussed were education and skills, employment legislation, the role of HM Revenue & Customs and tax in general. Exporting and energy also featured prominently in the session, which was followed by a workshop for business owners involving three policy portfolio chairs.
Toby Perkins, MP for Chesterfield took questions on issues from airports to the A14 at an FSB surgery session in Leicester. Mr Perkins was quizzed on LEP' and how SME's can get the input they need to LEP's as well as better communication channels between the two, no airport in Sheffield, and how many small businesses need educating in how to boost their productivity through marketing and staff training.
A business surgery was held in four sessions with Michael Fallon, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Mr Fallon was also asked about Sheffield Airport, how Government can help facilitate the important link between education and business enterprise, employment and small firms, reviewing some of the employment legislation for companies with fewer than five employees to encourage business growth in the UK, how UKTI can help FSB Members more and also about the work of the LEPs.
Member Services Update
Adam Tyler, CEO of NACFB (National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers) spoke about finance opportunities available exclusively for FSB members via the "Finance for Business" scheme. Adam urged members who are struggling to access finance to get in touch. FSB Members will be directed to a range of commercial lenders to help secure finance. FSB members can take advantage of commercial lending which is structured to each individual business and covers: Commercial mortgages (medium to long term) for usage or on a buy to let basis, leasing and asset finance (short to medium term) which can cover the purchasing of new equipment such as IT systems or vehicles, cash flow finance - helping you to run your business.
Paul Baker MD OF IFS (Independent Financial Services) UK Ltd gave an update to members about the FSB auto enrolment pension scheme. From 2012 and 2016, all employers will need to: have registered a pension scheme, auto enrolled ALL eligible staff onto it, and pay contributions into it. Paul outlined 3 simple steps to register for the scheme and avoid fines: apply – set up the scheme now, build – start your contributions low and build and comply – at your staging date you are ready to comply.
FSB Question Time
At the Question Time session, which was chaired by Naga Munchetty, Members put a range of questions to panellists John Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South, the FSB's Policy Chairman Mike Cherry, the Leicester Mercury's Business Editor, Ian Griffin, and Nicky Morgan, Conservative MP for Loughborough. The session began with a debate on the housing market, with concerns raised that the financial stimulus in the budget could lead to conditions similar to those in the US that created the sub-prime crisis. Questions then moved on to finance – including the lack of support from banks for the construction sector. The funding for lending scheme and other Government finance initiatives came under scrutiny, and one delegate questioned whether there should be tax breaks for parents given the growing importance on the ‘bank of Mum and Dad'. Tax was also hotly debated. Exporting came next, particularly what the Government could do to support small firms seeking to export to non-European destinations such as BRIC countries. It was felt that UKTI has improved recently but could still provide more support. Following a discussion about the role and funding of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), with many members concerned about the lack of genuine small business representation and inconsistency, the session ended with questions on energy, including the balance between traditional and renewable, green energy provision. Mr Cherry called for cross-party support for long-term energy provision without delay.
Saturday afternoon's programme was given a dose of ‘fun and games' in the FSB insurance presentation. A ‘Who wants to be a millionaire' style quiz show with John Walker and Norman Lay as contestants showcased what FSB Insurance Services have offered Members over 20 years, and what they continue to do in their support the FSB. The helpline is a right of membership, and Members able to gain advice whether they buy a product or not. Visiting regions keeps FSB insurance in touch with what members need, and on site visits can be carried out to those considering making an insurance services purchase. The support from FSB Insurance Services goes beyond the financial; European Small Business Alliance (ESBA) were part founded by FSB insurance services, and the policy team have worked closely with FSB insurance to lobby on issues around employer liability and flood defence legislation. The session ended with Norman and John, successful in becoming ‘millionaires' having a ‘quo off' to the sounds of the famous band. John's long standing FSB involvement and all his work was warmly appreciated by Dave and Tim of FSB insurance, and indeed the audience, whose applause cemented John as top ‘Quo' rocker!
Presentation by Visa
Safety, convenience and control in an era of fast-changing payments was the theme of a presentation from Nigel Eaton, Head of Small Business Solutions at Visa Europe, the main sponsor of FSB's 2013 annual conference. Discussing technology and the future of payments, Mr Eaton highlighted new Visa products set to change the way payments are received and processed. They are: Contactless Payments, V.ME, Visa Alerts and Mobile POS (Point of Sale) terminals. Revealing a transaction flow that showed over 63 million Visa card transactions had taken place in the duration of the conference, Mr Eaton emphasised the importance to all of these systems of safety and security, in addition to convenience and control. Contactless Payments allows transactions to be made without having to insert cards into terminals, allowing quick payments in seconds, with pin requirements for transactions of over £20. The past year has seen a five-fold increase in the use of this technology and Mr Evans said it would be a foundation stone of the direction of payments in the future – including imbedding Contactless Payment into mobile phones.
Toyah Willcox, singer, actress and author
Toyah spoke passionately about her experiences in show business from a woman's perspective. She focussed on the need to constantly adapt her image to maintain longevity and success. Toyah described herself as a small cottage industry. She spoke about the changes in show business during an eventful thirty five year career. In particular, Toyah believes that the power of social media such as twitter and YouTube, has allowed her to cultivate numerous images for significantly less money than would have been the case many years ago and that this power should be harnessed by micro firms. Small businesses should take advantage of modern forms of technology to develop a unique image to make them stand out from the crowd. Toyah said that ‘twitter should be your oxygen' providing opportunities for visibility and profile building. Toyah stressed the importance of constructing a unique image for building a successful career and business. She spoke about how she has used the element of surprise to maintain her profile and the need to continue learning, developing and growing as an individual. Toyah emphasised the need to have belief in yourself and your business. She ended by reiterating the importance and need to constantly re define herself and that businesses are no different – she has had to adapt, as an actor and singer – to changes every decade, but that this adaptability is the key to her success