The British Social Attitudes survey published this week shows a huge growth in the number of people setting up small businesses. According to the survey, the number in the “business owners/self-employed” category has more than doubled in the past 30 years. And since the downturn began, the number of self-employed people has grown by almost 10 per cent, even while the economy has stagnated.
Nowhere is this growth in entrepreneurship more evident than in London. Here, more businesses are being started and more are already in existence than in any other part of the country. Our city has more than 800,000 private-sector firms.
In spite of all this, the British version of the American Dream lacks the potency of its US equivalent: the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, then you can succeed and prosper through sheer determination and graft. So we must articulate our “British Dream” more clearly, championing and celebrating those who go into business, turn their ideas into action and create wealth. The fact that social mobility has stalled makes this all the more urgent.
There are many things government can do to empower people and make this a reality. People don’t want handouts but they do want support to help them carve out their own success. Helping start-ups and small firms get the finance they need to set up and grow is a good place to start but under this Government bank lending to small business has fallen. That’s why we’ve argued for a proper British Investment Bank, supported by a network of regional banks to get finance flowing again.
But there is one simple thing we can all do this year to show our support for small firms and local shops at a time when high-street vacancy rates remain stubbornly high. Britain’s first Small Business Saturday is taking place in three months’ time on December 7 — one of the busiest shopping days of the year — after I first mooted the idea in January.
Small Business Saturday is already a great success in the US, which is why I wanted to see it come to Britain too. On Small Business Saturday last year American consumers spent $5 billion with small firms. A broad coalition has made Britain’s first ever Small Business Saturday happen, including business organisations representing hundreds of thousands of firms and local authorities of all political persuasions — even the Prime Minister tweeted his support this summer.
This week O2 became the latest company to announce it will be using its networks to promote the day among its millions of customers.
The day will put centre stage those who make the most of their talents by risking all to go into business, giving us greater choice and creating much- needed jobs. This is about people innovating and trumpeting their success. In turn it will hopefully inspire others to go on and make the British Dream a reality too.
One day alone won’t change the economic weather, but in the US it has made a real difference and given people an opportunity to support small businesses and celebrate their contribution to national life. So please do put Saturday December 7 in your diaries.