Category Archives: elections

Save the Bankers v Save the Pandas – now there’s a choice!

This Sunday has not started well. Beautiful crisp morning but pretty damn cold – the beginning of the ice box scenario for many households who can’t afford heating. Nevertheless, Paul and I were up early and ready to go out to our local car boot which has, over the last few years, become like a weekly social event – regular stall holders with irregular wares and prices ranging from 20p to a couple of pounds, regular visitors chatting away with each other, lots of dogs (and their proud owners) and so multi cultural. I often think the car boot sale we go to, which is held in a farmers field in Cambridgeshire, is one of the best and most amicable examples of multi-cultural Britain.

Unfortunately today’s visit did not go to plan as our elderly car decided it does not want to live through another winter – and refused to start. Hey ho, won’t be the first time a car has died on us over the last few years, so I decided to take another pleasant option – read the papers on line, tweet a bit and listen to the Archers.

It was all going really well until I read an article on the Conservative home site called ‘Save the Bankers’ penned by an A level student. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their view and it’s always good to see young people voicing their opinions. The author even made some good points – especially the point that ‘save the bankers’ is unlikely to be as popular a campaign as ‘save the pandas.’ Yep, I’d say it’s a non starter. And he, Joe, also made the valid point that thousands of people are employed in banks – the figure of 3.8% of the population was muted although I haven’t checked that figure. Obviously it’s a big sector – obviously it employs many ordinary decent people – and even makes many of them redundant and, (I don’t know if Joe knows this) sometimes by the most ungracious of methods, like please all attend a meeting in the car park – you’re fired and don’t go back into the building.

However, the overall tone of the article was to praise the contribution banks and bankers make to society; to criticise those who insist banks are the root of all evil and; to have a pop at the Labour party for their manifesto in relation to bankers’ bonuses. With the arrogance of youth, the author insists we must rise above the ridiculous myth that banks or the City are responsible for society’s ills and we must instead take collective responsibility for economic failures.

Fair enough – not many 18 year old’s will have lost their business because of asset stripping or swaps. They probably won’t have been affected by LIBOR or even PPI at that age. They won’t know how the insolvency laws have been abused and manipulated over the years so that solvent companies are pushed into administration by banks who then acquire those assets for peanuts. So they won’t know how many SMEs have been destroyed by deliberate and immoral policy implemented to benefit an elite minority at a huge cost to the majority. And if you don’t research that side of the coin – you won’t know and you won’t include any of it in your article.

But my problem is not about the content of the article – in a world where social media means everyone can share their views across the internet, why shouldn’t Joe share his? And if he had done so on his own blog, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid (I probably wouldn’t have even seen it). What I found worrying was that the Conservative party gave this blog/article a huge platform on their home site and in doing so, they’ve used an A level student to promote the bizarre propaganda that banks are fundamentally good, we should recognise their contribution to society, embrace the ambitious nature of bankers and allow them to thrive without the constraints of “iniquitous” legislation being imposed by regulators. Bonkers!!!

There are no doubt many good bankers out there Joe. Every sector has good people – personally I always had a bit of a soft spot for Tony Soprano. Some of my good friends come from the financial sector – although most of those particular friends are now better known as ‘whistleblowers.’ Sadly, there can’t be many good main stream banks in the UK – because unlike other European countries, we only have a handful of banks and even if 50% of them were good – that could still only be a few rather than many. In my experience and after 7 years of research, I would say the majority of the big banks have repeatedly demonstrated utter contempt for society and its laws – spurred on by successive Governments.

I have no idea who to vote for next year – almost certainly it will be the party which demonstrates any inclination to support the 4.9M SMEs in the UK who employ 25M people – if such a party exists. Who knows, that could even turn out to be the Conservative party. Like many SME owners, I would just like to see a Government that redresses the balance of the many and varied issues that have caused SMEs to bat on a totally uneven playing field – and banking is only one of the those issues. All the same, while I respect everyone’s views, I feel slightly apprehensive about any political party that gets teenagers to preach on the subject of how good our financial sector is. Poor etiquette Dave. Unless of course you are also going to let someone else have the same platform to put the other side of the argument? I can think of quite a few volunteers.

SMEalliance v Parallel Universe.

I was think this morning (actually I was dreaming it as well) about this bizarre situation we have of parallel universes. It’s a situation now so blatantly obvious between SMEs on the one hand and banks, regulators, authorities on the other, that we seem to talk an entirely different language and have an entirely different thought process. A very good example of this is the Lawrence Tomlinson report into RBS/GRG vs the Clifford Chance report. Clearly the two camps are not on the same planet and not writing about the same problem. Or, worse still, Clifford Chance looked at the problem and then interpreted their findings according to the laws of Klingon or the Disc World. Question – which camp is run by aliens?

I would say it’s not us, the SMEs (well I would say that) but I have good grounds for that assumption. We, the many SME owners and employees, have no option than to deal with very real, down to earth problems and situations. Given the many and varied ways banks have tricked, manipulated, defrauded, deceived (call it what you will) the SME sector, many of us, and I can say this as a fact, have problems making budgets stretch to the next day. The concept of what tie to wear to the next Mansion House dinner or what colour Merc to order next year, is totally immaterial to our lives.  We are very ‘grounded’ and we are determined to bring about change, so we don’t end up ‘under-grounded’ before our time.  And of course that is not a scenario that applies just to SMEs – the majority of people in this Country have been affected by the extreme austerity the so called ‘credit crunch’ caused.

So it’s been interesting to see some of the top people from the parallel universe, running around like headless chickens for the last few weeks because they were suddenly forced to face the fact that ordinary people count. I’m talking about the Scottish referendum of course. Even although the ‘No’ vote won in the end, it was a sharp wake up call to “all in it together” Dave and Ed & co, when the Scottish people made it blatantly clear they were sick of a Westminster dictatorship. And although I personally think it would have been a mistake to split the United Kingdom, I do think Alex Salmond and his team may have done everyone a big favour. They’ve made a point – if you want to stay in Government you’ve got to do what it says on the tin – or we’ll walk.

For a very long time now, what we’ve had between Government and people is “a failure to communicate.” And it’s become so out of hand most politicians fail to understand even the most basic problem i.e  we vote them into power based on promises made which will benefit the majority and then, when they’re in power,  they break almost every bloody promise in order to benefit the tiny minority living in the parallel universe which encompasses that tiny dot of Britain in central London to include Westminster and the City.

I don’t want to get involved in the pro’s and con’s of Scottish devolution – I’m not Scottish – but I was quite fascinated by the lengths our political parties went to to keep Scotland. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating and, in my humble opinion, what will follow now is a battle, the likes of which we haven’t seen for quite a few years, while Scotland insists Dave keeps his promises and the rest of the UK wonders on what grounds Scotland gets preferential treatment – when half of them didn’t want to be part of Britain in the first place? It is going to be very interesting.

Anyway my point is – Scotland has 5M+ voters and the thought of losing them caused many people from la La Land to become quite apoplectic. Suddenly they listened and suddenly they agreed to the need for change. I can’t help feeling this was more about economics than people but, whatever, it brought our aloof elite back to earth for a while. How long they will stay – who knows. But there’s a good chance they’ll be here en mass for the next 9 months.

It took the SNP years to build that momentum and some may feel it is entirely presumptuous to compare SMEalliace to the SNP. But you’d be wrong – every organisation looking for change via our democratic process is similar to the SNP. Our problem so far has been – only money has been having political influence – not people. SMEalliance may be at totally grass root level and we are absolutely a fledgling initiative – but we want change every bit as much as Scotland does – and we want to be listened to every bit as much as Scotland does. And I hope we will grow very quickly as an organisation – because we could potentially reflect the views of millions of people – and some of them Scottish. And no, we can’t vote to get out of Britain (well I suppose we could form a convoy and head for the Costa Del somewhere) but we could vote for the party that listens to us the most – which was always the basic idea behind SMEalliance – we want to raise our voices before more SMEs are brutally trashed.

And here’s a thought running up to the election – if the 4.9M SMEs in this Country were able to function efficiently and grow as the entrepreneurs who started them intended, instead of being continually crippled – and not just by banks – the impact we would have on the economy would be phenomenal. We would be a huge asset to the Country and we would shift the balance of power back from the parallel universe to the real world.

Now I know a lot of people won’t like that idea. But it’s called democracy and if we could identify the political party who would give it a shot – we could be a handy vote.

 

 

 

 

SMEalliance up and running

It’s been a busy week and I still can’t believe that two weeks ago SMEalliance didn’t exist. It certainly does now! Obviously it’s still early days but here’s a brief update of where we are:

We have a company .

We have a domain name smealliance.org.

We have a logo (to be unveiled next week)

The website is being built and should be up and running by the end of next week.

We have a meeting confirmed for 25 people on 24th September at 1.00pm (the venue will be confirmed early next week but if it’s not Chancery Lane it will be within walking distance of Chancery Lane)

We have supporters who can’t make the meeting but are on board.

We have media interest.

Not bad progress for 12 days work.  But I am fully aware we are at the very beginning of something and what we want to achieve will not be easy.

I’ve been repeatedly asked over the last few days, the very obvious question, what will make SMEalliance different from any other organisation that supports SMEs. And I want to say straight away, we haven’t formed this group as a criticism against other organisations.

However, there are serious issues for all SMEs that clearly are not being dealt with or resolved. As these are issues that affect SME owners, shareholders, employees, it makes sense for us to try and help deal with them ourselves and alongside existing organisations. After all, who knows the problems we face better than us? And please note – SMEalliance is absolutely not just about banks – so we are not going into competition with Bully Banks or anyone else – in fact we have a meeting scheduled with Bully Banks and I hope we’ll have meetings with the FSB in the future.

As I said on Day 1 of this initiative – there are 4.9M SMEs in Britain and it is absolutely ridiculous that we are ignored by all the major political parties. They may say they don’t ignore us but the proof of the pudding is; no one is doing anything about the way banks continue to trash SMEs and steal their assets; no one is enforcing the conditions banks agreed to as part of the bailouts (i.e funding for SMEs); no one is looking at the abuse we suffer at the hands of the insolvency sector; no one is looking at the inequitable position we are in with the justice system (i.e first we get abused and then our abusers use shareholders money to make sure we can be abused again in the Courts); we are crippled with red tape and regulation while the major corporations SMEs struggle to compete with, are often not even paying UK taxes because they’re registered off shore; the various Ombudsman schemes are not set up to deal with SME problems; the regulators are not set up to deal with SMEs (e.g the FCA does not deal with individual issues but the FOS can only give limited compensation which doesn’t cater for SME losses); and so on and so forth.

The reason for SMEalliance is: we, the members (the few now and the many coming) are all very aware of how important SMEs are to society but also how individually vulnerable we are against the kind of unethical practise that blights the business community. Many of us started businesses with all the enthusiasm and dedication synonymous with entrepreneurship and with no idea how easy it would be for rogue elements of other sectors to see us as mere cannon fodder. We all employ (or employed) people and we know first hand the devastation caused when businesses fail because of immoral and sometimes fraudulent scenarios we have no control over. I think we’ve been collectively shocked that the protection we thought we had – regulators, law, Government – has, in many cases, proven to be totally ineffectual. Many of us have watched in horror as our businesses have been destroyed despite our every effort to save them. We’ve all tried individually to stop the kind of corruption and “wilful blindness” that makes SMEs such easy prey. Now we’re going to do it collectively. Who better than us to try and help remedy the problems facing our sector?

SMEalliance is a very simple concept. SME owners, shareholders, employees getting together to share idea’s and information that will help us all. And, most of all, having a collective voice that policy makers in Governments have to listen to. I’ll put that another way because a) “HAVE” to listen suggests we have a very aggressive agenda and b) as we all know, selective hearing or pretending to listen (nodding dog syndrome) is a speciality of some politicians. We want to get to the point where political parties genuinely WANT to listen to us and genuinely want to use our experiences to identify what needs to be changed or put in place for a more equitable platform for SMEs. It can only be a good thing for the economy to make the SME sector strong.

It’s a plan. It’s a very good plan. Now we just need to make it work! As I said, it’s early days but something about this does feel very logical.

That’s it for now. Anymore and someone will be buying me a soapbox! Will update again in the week. Please spread the word. #SMEalliance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st SME Alliance meeting fully subscribed.

Brilliantly we have filled the spaces available for the first meeting of SME Alliance. Many thanks to those who have also pledged support – we will keep them fully updated on the agenda and, of course, the results of the meeting.

While we don’t have any more space for the meeting, please do keep contacting us on: smealliance2014@gmail.com if you want to support this initiative and get updates. It’s early days but who knows? After all it is logical – approx 25million people work for the  4,9 million + SMEs in this country. But in recent years we’ve been like lambs to the slaughter as far as the bamks have been concerned and successive Governments have done nothing to stop what’s happening. Bankers may well control the wealth of the country but they’re not (quite) brazen enough (yet) to pretend they have more power than politicians and Governments.

A journalist asked me today why we are putting together this initiative – and then answered his own questions. The organisations that are in place don’t seem to have been at all vocal about the many problems SMEs face. Most of them have been silent and stood on the sidelines.

As my mother used to say – “if you want a job well done, do it yourself.” That’s what SMEalliance intends to do. This isn’t just about fighting banks. It’s about asking how 25 million people, who are the life blood of British business, can be totally ignored?

We have no more space for the first meeting (which is amazing given we only came into being a week ago) but we do need the support of as many SME owners and employees as possible. A few thousand supporters between now and the general election next year, may just remind people what an election is about?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update re: meeting of SMEalliance 24th September 2014

09/09/14

Many thanks for the replies. As I’ve been in Oxford all day (but I live in Cambridge) I haven’t had time to respond – but I will. What is going on in this Country – we have major road works on our busiest roads in rush hour traffic? And then they open the roads at night when there’s hardly any traffic? So just over 2 hours to get back from Oxford but 3&1/2 to get there! Bonkers.

Rant over – As we still have to book the venue, it would be really good if anyone else wanting to come on 24th September could reply by 11.00am tomorrow so I can pass the definitive numbers on to Jon Welsby who is finding the best place.

Thanks also to those who can’t attend but want to support SMEalliance. Crazy to think all this started just a week ago! I wonder where we’ll be in a month? I’m really looking forward to meeting you all. And I would just add – after the meeting I had today with a really lovely farmer and his family, who have been totally abused by banks, the quicker we get a voice and some muscle, the better!!

Best

Nikki

From the replies received it seems that Wednesday 24th September is the best date for the 1st meeting of SMEalliance. So that’s it – we have a date. It’s been suggested the meeting should take place at 1.00pm because some people have a considerable distance to travel – and no one wants to by peak time rail tickets if they can avoid it.

What we can’t confirm as yet, is the venue – because we don’t know how many people want to attend? We have a list of 8 people who will definitely be coming but because last week was so hectic, I haven’t had a chance to confirm the names of many others who have expressed an interest to be involved. Until we know the numbers, we can’t confirm the venue. Jon Welsby has suggested a couple of venues he can get but they can only accommodate 10 – 12 people at max. I am sure we can find a bigger venue if more people want to come and our priority now is to confirm the numbers.

I have set up a specific e-mail address for people to confirm their attendance:

smealliance2014@gmail.com

Alternatively you can confirm by commenting on this blog.

Please let me know (if possible by Wednesday morning) if you would like to come. I am in Oxford all day tomorrow but would really like to be able to work on this Wednesday. Once we have that info I can e-mail all participants with a venue and an agenda (of sorts). Please bear in mind – this is a fledgling initiative at the moment and the purpose of the meeting is to make a plan for the future and create a strong group that will have a voice. I am not necessarily leading the group as the meeting may produce someone better suited to the job. But I am more than happy to help get us to that stage.

It would also be very helpful to receive an e-mail from anyone who isn’t in a position to come on the 24th but still wants to support #smealliance and receive regular update. Please make it very clear on e-mails on in comments – I WANT TO ATTEND ON THE 24th SEPTEMBER or I WANT TO SUPPORT SMEalliance AND RECEIVE UPDATES. At this stage the only info we need is the confirmation, a name, e-mail address (which we’ll obviously have), a twitter name (if you tweet) and a phone number if you want to give it – not obligatory.

Next blog on Wednesday or Thursday – hopefully with a venue and an agenda for the 1st meeting. Obviously the agenda will only go to those who are attending the meeting or want to support. Oh – and any bankers signing up to get inside information – we would be very happy for you to attend and speak to us!

Look forward to hearing from everyone.

Best

Nikki

 

To SME friends on twitter

Dear David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and other party leaders,

In the run up to the next election the owners and shareholders of 10s of 1000’s of SMEs who have been systemically abused by banks are wondering who to vote for and if there is any point? Over the last few years it seems there has been little difference in how the major parties have pandered to the banks and Corporates at the expense of the millions of small businesses in Britain. And while the present Government insists the economy is growing, the situation of banks refusing to fund SMEs while continuing to close them down, steal their assets and knowingly defraud them, continues unabated.

Not only do the banks continue with their unethical conduct to SMEs, we can assure you the majority of business owners find the regulators to be at best ineffectual and at worst biased towards the big banks. In all honesty we have no idea which party, if any, would be prepared to change that unethical status quo and support British businesses.

The following statistics come from BIS (beginning of 2013)

  • There were an estimated 4.9 million businesses in the UK which employed 24.3 million people, and had a combined turnover of £3,300 billion

  • SMEs* accounted for 99.9 per cent of all private sector businesses in the UK, 59.3 per cent of private sector employment and 48.1 per cent of private sector turnover

  • SMEs employed 14.4 million people and had a combined turnover of £1,600 billion

  • Small businesses** alone accounted for 47 per cent of private sector employment and 33.1 per cent of turnover

  • Of all businesses, 62.6 per cent (3.7 million) were sole proprietorships, 28.5 per cent (1.4 million) were companies and 8.9 per cent (434,000) partnerships

  • There were 891,000 businesses operating in the construction sector – nearly a fifth of all businesses

  • In the financial and insurance sector, only 27.5 per cent of employment was in SMEs. However, in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector virtually all employment (95.4 per cent) was in SMEs

  • Only 22.5 per cent of private sector turnover was in the arts, entertainment and recreation activities, while 92.7 per cent was in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector

  • With 841,000 private sector business, London had more firms than any other region in the UK. The south east had the second largest number of businesses with 791,000. Together these regions account for almost a third of all firm

24.3 million people equals a lot of votes and that’s without taking into account the millions of individuals damaged by the so called ‘credit crunch’ when banks were given billions of pounds from the public coffers with no reference to the public. That is a statement of fact – not a political point and many of us see little difference in the conduct of the last Labour Government to the present coalition Government. The banks and bankers get richer while the society and the small businesses that are such an essential part of the economy are continually ignored or deliberately impoverished.

We would like to know if any of the political parties are genuinely intending to support SMEs in the next term of Government? We’d like to know if that support is included, or proposed to be included, in any manifesto? And we would like to know what guarantees will be given that any promises made in the run up to the election, will be upheld? In the previous election we were all led to believe miscreant bankers would be individually held to account and bankers would not be handsomely rewarded for causing the austerity most of us live with. It has not happened and, if anything, our banks feel empowered to act immorally and even criminally in the knowledge any penalty will be levied against the shareholders by fines from the regulators. It started with new Labour and this situation has been proliferated by the coalition.

We would be grateful if anyone can clarify what we should expect from the next Government and whether any party is intending to support SMEs. The situation for many SMEs in this Country is catastrophic. We want change – we want to know who is prepared to instigate that change – we want to know where our millions of votes should go.

Yours sincerely

SME Alliance.