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Kieron Hayes

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Rupert's Sky May Be Falling -- But in the Real World SMEs Are Still Hacked Off

Posted: 07/21/11 02:20 PM ET

You can't escape it it seems. Everywhere you look it's Rupert this, Rebekah's resignation that and Andy the other. Yet while the nation's attention is focused on big business shenanigans there're a whole load of firms out there struggling to cope in a challenging marketplace.

For small businesses in particular, things are tough. I'm currently working with a firm called Nicholas Hythe. It's a Kitchen Design Studio based near Milton Keynes. It's an innovative outfit that has a distinct local focus, admirable environmental principles and, despite the tough economic climate, is managing to grow its business; unlike 'big ticket' failures like Moben and Habitat. So all good, I hear you say -- well not really.

I used to be the Press Officer for a small business lobby group. At the time we had a Tory opposition and I met many MPs, including the now Chancellor George Osbourne, who were keen to stress how supportive of small business they would be if they got into power. "We understand your problems," they'd say. "We know how negatively excessive red tape impacts your business and if we had our way we'd sweep it aside and free you to get on with what you do best -- getting down to business."

The best part of a decade later and has anything changed? Despite being in power for a while it appears that those promises were as empty as they would have us believe the country's bank balance is. Nicholas Hythe is still coming up against those hoary old chestnuts that so vexed our members all that time ago -- barriers to growth.

Let's put some context around the contribution that SMEs make to UK plc. According to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills' own figures for 2010, "small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) together accounted for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, 59.8 per cent of private sector employment and 49 per cent of private sector turnover. Turnover in SMEs is estimated at £1,589 billion, £88 billion (5.8 per cent) higher than 2008." Small firms they may be, but small beer they certainly ain't.

So you'd think that it would be easy for a firm with ambition and a burgeoning order book to expand their operation while a 'business-friendly' Government is in power? Well frustratingly it isn't proving to be the case for Nicholas Hythe.

Ross, the firm's boss is trying to expand the business in the Huntingdon area. He's written a blog about the increasing frustration he's experiencing while trying to set up a new showroom, which you can read here: http://www.nicholashythe.co.uk/2011/07/11/retail-property-crisis-really/

It's a depressing, and from my experience, all too familiar tale of intransigence from planners, a total lack of 'joined-up' Government thinking, little help from big business and the little guys being left to sink or swim on their own -- while making a massive contribution to keeping the UK economy afloat. The company already has an office in Huntingdon, so you think that'd work in its favour. It has a policy of only using locally sourced materials and tradespeople and is committed to adding value to the communities in which it operates -- surely the type of business local authorities would be falling over themselves to attract to their area and support. But not a bit of it. Eight months later and Ross is still looking for premises.

In an era when many believe that the High Street is dying, that we live in an age of retail homogeneity and where good quality craftsmanship and business opportunity is thin on the ground, you'd think that a go-ahead firm with big ambitions would find it all too easy to garner the support to achieve all that it wants to achieve. Sadly this isn't the case for Ross and his colleagues. No wonder they're hacked off!

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