It’s Hard

Office Move

Downtown recently held a fantastic half day conference in association with the government’s flagship business support initiative Growth Accelerator.

The event was entitled ‘Limitless – developing a hyper-growth Mind-set’ and focussed on how successful business leaders and entrepreneurs from across the UK had ‘done it’.

Inevitably the contributions from the speakers were upbeat and positive, but almost to a person, every keynote speaker and panel member warned would-be growth ambitious businesses that taking your company forward is challenging, at times frustrating, and it’s hard!

Downtown has been evolving and growing, relatively steadily, for just over a decade now. On Monday we are moving offices, so that the team at our Liverpool HQ have a better working environment. It is also a facility that provides us with space and collateral to offer our members a more diverse range of events and business support services.

In 2015, you would think that an office move would be relatively simple. However, we have needed to find additional hours and resource from our existing team, and use some external help too, over a period of a few months, to make it happen. Telephones, internet services, the office fit out and new furniture are among a long list of things that were on the ‘to do’ list, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to the actual physical move next week. I’m sure though that the old adage ‘short term pain for long term gain’ applies here.

This is the latest ‘hard to do’ in my personal business growth journey and it would be nice to say that UK Plc, with its love of an enterprise culture and entrepreneurial spirit, has at least been there to help me through it.

Sadly not. There is no ‘one-stop-shop’ for a small business to seek guidance on who the best suppliers are when you’re moving office. There is no robot within HMRC who will accept that moving office to grow your business and secure, hopefully create, jobs, is deserving of some lee-way in terms of tax returns and VAT payments. There is certainly no business book, manual or course that can take you through the ‘office move’ project – or indeed many of the other issues you will face as an ambitious business owner.

This is why business support initiatives such as Growth Accelerator, and a few others that are genuinely private sector led, are so invaluable. It is also why public sector agencies, quasi-public sector organisations and failed middle managers should not be allowed anywhere near business support – but that is a rant for another day.

For now, I will get on with the latest ‘challenge’, and simply take on the chin the hefty fine imposed on me this week by HMRC for my VAT payment being a day late!

Flagship Finance Initiative Needs a Shake Up


In 2010 Michael Heseltine came to a Downtown event and waxed lyrical about the newly launched Regional Growth Fund.

This new financial pot would be available to businesses that were looking to grow and employ more staff. Essentially it would be aimed at the SMEs who are the crucial drivers of the UK economy, and the fund would be business friendly in terms of its processes and delivery, and as free from bureaucracy as it could possibly be.

Four years later and Hezza will be as disappointed as anyone at the latest report on the progress, or rather lack of it, of the RGF.

The National Audit Office has revealed that more than three quarters of the fund remains unspent, with only £492m of the allocated £2.6bn actually reaching business. The average cost of creating or safeguarding a job now stands at £37,400. And of the £917m paid out from the fund at the end of December last year, £425m is being held by intermediaries.

Bad though these statistics are, Downtown members’ experience on the ground is what is really concerning about RGF. Far from being ‘red tape free’ as the former Deputy Prime Minister intended, those companies who have applied to the fund have found it one of the most challenging and bureaucratic routes to finance.

Of those who didn’t give up part way through the cumbersome process, the few companies that were eventually successful have had to wait an age for their money, and have never received the business support and mentoring that was supposed to be part of the package.

Small and medium enterprises also question why companies such as AstraZeneca, Jaguar Land Rover and Lloyds Banking Group are being supported through a fund that was promoted and marketed as support for them.

What should have been a really positive and innovative addition to business support is turning into a bit of a damp squib. I hope Michael Heseltine and his government colleagues review how this important initiative can be shaken up and put back on track. The economy may be improving, but growing businesses still need all the help they can get.