What did we learn from the Put Simply debate?

Read on for our round-up of last week’s grilling…

Put Simply

As our Simply Britain Pulse Check showed us, many of you aren’t too happy with Westminster. 50% of you told us that no party understood your needs, whilst an even higher 56% of you labeled local and central government ‘out of touch’. Staggering stats they suggested a clear disconnect between the largest parties and the smallest businesses, so last week we staged a debate designed to bridge the gap.

Armed with your uncomfortable insights we built a diverse panel, mixing the worlds of both politics and business. Facing your questions at the Elite Business Event were:

Damian Collins MP - The Prime Minister’s Small Business Ambassador for the South East and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary

Lord Tim Clement-Jones - Former chairman of the Liberal party & current Liberal Democrat spokesperson in the House of Lords

Rekha Mehr - Director, MassChallenge and former Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Sarah Wood - Cofounder & COO of video advert tech company Unruly

Hosted by Declan Curry – freelance journalist and former BBC presenter – we had plenty of fuel for a fiery discussion that tackled the tricky questions. Here’s five of the biggest insights we took from the debate.

The coalition ‘has listened’

When confronted with our stats Damian Collins and Lord Tim Clement-Jones replied with a list of successes. In their eyes tax cuts, increased regional investment and the business rates review proved engagement, with an outcome of this a burgeoning ‘cluster culture’ across the UK. They pointed to Brighton, Sheffield and Manchester as proof that their policies were working, and claimed that the flourishing startup scenes in these cities were evidence of their achievements. Ultimately, Lord Clement-Jones suggested that he was happy to stand by the coalition’s record in government.

But they still don’t understand the battle

Whilst the two politicians on the panel thought that they were doing a decent job, the two entrepreneurs sat beside them had plenty of gripes to share. Backing up our Pulse Check findings of a disconnected political class, Sarah Wood suggested that MPs rarely understand the day-to-day battles of running a business. She pointed to a significant skills shortage and the trouble she had in recruiting staff, and argued that there was need for greater childcare tax credits. Not only could this close the skills gap she believed, but it could help ‘increase workplace diversity’.

Rekha Mehr suggested that there were clear gaps in support, and argued that existing programs and initiatives weren’t reaching the right businesses. Corporation tax policy, a lack of scaling up help, and easy access to mentoring were her biggest worries, the shared insights of Sarah and herself indicating that there’s still work to be done.

Is the civil service fit for purpose?

There was ‘utter waste’ in the public sector according to one audience member, as illustrated by stats surrounding failed government schemes and an ‘outdated recruitment criteria’. From top to bottom he believed that civil servants needed retraining, so that they were better equipped to keep up with the business world.

The politicians sat on the panel judged his views as unfair, Damian Collins replying that we have ‘the best civil service in the world’ and that it’s ‘not the government’s role to say what a startup in Shoreditch needs and wants’. The best they could do was to go out and engage – which he suggested they were – and go back and build policy based on what they discovered. Lord Clement-Jones did see shortcomings though, particularly in terms of civil service project management, and argued that better skills here could see better business initiatives built.

Regulation still rankles

The chairman of a care group sat in the audience spoke of the challenges public sector contracts brought, his dealings here bringing lengthy tenders and plenty of complex legislation. He appreciated the need for detailed vetting but felt that the red tape had got too much, taking away some of the appeal of public sector contracts.

In response Damian Collins argued that regulation was a necessary evil, but conceded that there needed to be some more simplification here. Lord Clement-Jones pointed to the eradication of Pre-Qualification Questionnaires as proof that government was taking action, but as the experience of our audience member showed perhaps it’s still not quite enough.

The next government needs a business mission

Wrapping up the debate Sarah Woods pointed to the need for a solid political vision, backed up by solid tactics and strategies that would ease small business success. Rekha echoed her thoughts indicating that policymakers shouldn’t rest just yet, even if both our coalition politicians believed that their work had been successful. On top of our findings their thoughts suggest our parties have plenty on their plate. With the election a matter of weeks away it’s time to prove your credentials Westminster…

What do you make of our Put Simply debate findings? Let us know in the comments

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