One of the highlights of my year was being part of the judging panel for the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards. Reading about so many innovative, creative, thriving small businesses from all over the UK reminded me just how
incredible and vital the country’s small business community is. It made me proud to be National Chairman of an organisation which supports, protects and represents so many hard-working business owners and self employed.
FSB itself is a community, and in 2017/18 that was strengthened with the bedding-in of our regional restructure programme. A large number of members work tirelessly as FSB volunteers, making the voice of small businesses heard at local, regional and national levels. The new organisational structure emboldens that, and makes us fit for the future. I saw the results of that myself during visits across the country, meeting members and staff doing an excellent job of looking after the small business community in their area.
But small businesses do so much for the wider community – from supporting charities to skills training and giving opportunities to those in harder to reach parts of the workforce, such as ex-offenders and exservice personnel. For FSB’s part, I was delighted that the Rainbow Trust became the Chairman’s Charity. The Trust supports families who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. Additionally, the charity campaigns for change and fairer funding to help parents more easily combine work and care if they wish.
In 2017/18 I appointed FSB’s first ever Armed Forces Champion, Ren Kapur, as a special Chairman’s appointment. Ren, who is the founder and CEO of X-Forces Enterprise (XFE), is working with FSB to help advance policy change for the ‘armed forces in business’ community. I am delighted that, as well as refreshing FSB’s commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant, we also signed a memorandum of understanding with XFE to work jointly on initiatives, including policy, public affairs, public relations and regional tie-ins.
Thousands of women and men bravely serve their country in the armed forces, but can sometimes find it hard to enter the workforce when they leave. Among these service-leavers there are skills, talents and mind-sets which can make them fantastic entrepreneurs or employees. FSB was very pleased to increase its commitment to help nurture and support those service-leavers.
When we think of business support, the sorts of things which come to mind are banking or access to finance, networking opportunities, legal advice, or insurance. FSB continued to provide those member benefits and many more in 2017/18. Indeed, we joined with our partners Markel to launch FSB Insurance Service – the first ever joint venture created by FSB for FSB members.
But another kind of business support was a major focus – wellbeing. When starting or running your own business it can be easy to forget the importance of looking after yourself, both physically and mentally. And yet as rewarding and fulfilling as it can be to run your own business, it can also be incredibly tiring, stressful and at times – as many of our members say – a lonely experience.
In 2017/18 FSB created a wellbeing in small business hub for small business owners and, in the case of employers, their staff. A digital campaign to raise awareness ran alongside this. We worked with many partners on this, from the mental health charity Mind, to the UK’s public health bodies, and from the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development to the UK Green Building Council and the Jo Cox Foundation.
I was happy to have been invited to discuss this issue with HRH Prince William, as part of the Heads Together mental health initiative spearheaded by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and
Duchess of Sussex.
FSB has come a long way since it was formed in 1974. But now, as then, we are needed more than ever, standing up for our members and small businesses, lobbying policy decision-makers at all levels. 2017/18 saw policy wins on business rates, VAT and late payments among many others – all of this at a time when the domestic agenda was being squeezed by the political focus on the Brexit process.
This is what FSB is all about: supporting its members and making their voices heard. There were great leaps forward in 2017/18 thanks to our network of volunteers and staff across the organisation, who continued to deliver real results.