Prisk, fisked.

Mark Prisk MP today wrote an article on ConHome about how the government is intending to ‘help’ small businesses, this it turns out comes after focus grouping on linkedin, and no doubt in other places… but in the words of Ronald Reagan: The nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” and it would seem that Mr Prisk’s words haven’t gone down well.

The comments are viscous, and rightly so – the ideas put forward entirely miss the reasons why British businesses despise interference and non-action by Government; time and time again they’re missing the point that what small businesses want is the freedom to expand and grow without being taxed to death in the dangerous first few years of a business.

You can read the whole post here: Mark Prisk MP: How the Coalition Government will help small businesses to thrive and grow – if you are a business owner, please do comment, I think Mr Prisk needs to feel the full force of the feeling that I know almost every small business owner feels on this subject.

We don’t want ‘mentors’ and grants to get the unemployed to start businesses, we want intelligent management of the economy that allows entrepreneurialism to flourish. In a repost of my comments from the article I responded to yet another new plan for ‘help’ by pointing out that it’s a ludicrous situation that small businesses are being taxed to death in their first 5 years to support “saved” banks which then refuse to lend back to small businesses because it’s ‘too risky’ – until that is sorted, the situation for SMEs is not going to get much better. But with wider scope, the whole SME area needs to be looked into: as it is the engine of growth for UK trade and employment and it’s really being strangled I’m afraid.

Let’s look at a few key areas:

  • Business rates are through the roof and councils are pushing harder to make businesses pay for individual services (recycling, rubbish and so on) on top of the rates (set by Government) . Rates in central london can add a third extra to the rent for a small office before you’ve even started thinking about paying for anything else
  • Employer tax contributions are hurting small businesses – taxing small businesses to employ people: that is what the government is doing, and it hurts SMEs when they’re considering taking on new staff. A tax on jobs is a stupid idea and it should be removed forthwith.
  • Tax red tape – HMRC are slow in the extreme, tax questions take months to resolve, bills arrive late (damaging cash flow management) and the new system for PAYE is a mess… Small businesses are wasting hours every month dealing with a confusing and confused system and millions on professional advice that a simpler system would cut through immediately.
  • LTDs of whatever size are being clobbered for corporation tax right from the start – taxes for businesses should be proportionate to size and turnover. Not levied generally across the whole business world.
  • Our banking culture now doesn’t support entrepreneurism – the government can do what it likes but if it doesn’t provide a kick to the banks to stop penalising those who take risks leaving mainstream employment to set up businesses then we’re always going to lag behind: many SME owners I know have the same story to tell – that of previous ventures, (some many many years long gone) being dragged up by banks using privileged information in applications for credit linking ‘LTDs’ to private accounts and ignoring the whole point of limited liability just because they can link your accounts privately within their own systems.
  • Rather than throwing money at the unemployed to start businesses, there should be a pot available to all to support new business
  • There is no useful crisis service for small businesses, unlike big business most SMEs that get into trouble shut the doors or have the doors shut for them by bailiffs using Mediaeval laws of distraint on goods that ignore due process and result in the complete seizure of the flow of cash into the business.

Basically. Help us, Don’t kill us with taxes, and Let us get on our feet before you start trying to rip your pound of flesh from us.

I do hope Mr Prisk returns to his article, reads the comments, considers talking to the contributors and thinks again about ways his government can help the small businesses that keep our economy fluid, bring invention to Britain and keep us as world leaders in many niche fields.

Facebook & FourSquare.

I’ve been using foursquare for ages: most of you unless we’re friends on foursquare or facebook won’t have noticed as I don’t publish it here or via Twitter – not because I’m fussy about sharing my data – just that I don’t really mind cluttering my facebook wall with checkins, but I think that they’d probably irritate my twitter followers.

I’ve noticed an odd thing though about the connection between FourSquare and Facebook: you see I’ve given FourSquare permission to post updates to my facebook wall. That’s it, at least – as far as I was aware – just to post, but today logging onto facebook I was confronted by a Facebook Places sidebar on my homepage filled with checkins showing two entirely unconnected places, showing all my friends who had checked in there using Facebook places and showing messages and events relating to those places…

These are places that could only reasonably be connected together, and to me by the fact that I’d checked into these totally disparate places within the last week on FourSquare. So does this now mean that Facebook is now specifically capturing incoming FourSquare requests to post on your wall;  parsing them and storing the location data separately?

In a way it’s cool if it is, but my problem is I can’t actually remember giving Facebook the right to do this? I don’t doubt that buried in page 45 of the terms is a clause saying I’ve sold my soul and first born to them, and to be honest it’s not the end of the world if they are parsing my data – I just think there needs to be a little more transparency from Facebook about how data you submit to your wall via third party apps is used, stored, distributed and re-applied by Facebook. I can certainly imagine that if they continue it’s only a matter of time before there’s a clash between what someone thought they were privately posting to their wall (which may only be visible to a select group of contacts) and what Facebook may (or may not) be parsing/scraping then displaying using Facebook Places to all and sundry.

Cathy Ashton’s record.

When she was catapulted into her new position almost all of us scratched our heads at how Cathy Ashton – or should I say Baroness Ashton of Upholland could possibly be qualified to be not only Britain’s European Commissioner but also High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union. I, and it seems most of the rest of the country, seem to have missed her illustrious career in foreign affairs and diplomacy: but it’s probably unfair to say that it was a last ditch attempt by the dying Labour government to ensure some continuance of presence… but then again perhaps not.

Of course, on appointment there was much hullabaloo about how Cathy Ashton was a dedicated public servant who’d serve our requirements in Europe with the ‘upmost dedication’ – a phrase that along with ‘the prime minister has every confidence’ is about as subtle as a bell crashing out of the belfry. So it will come as a surprise to some, and no surprise to others, that the Daily Mail is reporting that our dear commissioner has missed four out of ten “key” meetings in Brussels, essentially leaving us ‘without a voice at the top table’. Digging a little deeper into the statistics and it would appear that the two roles Ms.Ashton currently holds aren’t compatible with further revelations that half the meetings she has attended have been abandoned by her before they ended – and presumably before any conclusions had been reached, and it seems that our European neighbours are getting a little bored of her swanning out of meetings as commissioner to go and act as an ineffective voice on the international stage.

It is about time that Cameron, who claimed he was committed to strengthening our position in Europe look to replace her as commissioner without delay allowing her to concentrate all her efforts on her international role as presently she’s failing to do either role well, and convienently has an excuse for poor performance whichever way she turns.

As a broader point the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union should be thought through more thoroughly – it is, potentially, a really powerful position. An opportunity for the European Union to assert a real international voice for the whole continental union on issues which often affect us not just nationally but as one continent of people. This is especially true when flexing our muscles against China, Russia and America where traditionally individual states might be tempted to scupper European needs for short term national need. Indeed played properly, with full support of the EP and EC the High Representative could be a powerful player in the role of the European Union as a global superpower: by many of the guides to being a super-power the EU already ticks the boxes, it would certainly work in the favour of Britain, Germany and France, so why reign it in?

The door to do this is open now, it won’t stay open – given time China and Russia are going to be real powers, not just in military might, but economically in direct trade, energy and natural resources, and like it or not european nations are going to have to deal with these nations: which individually would definitely be on their terms and not on those of the individual nation states, but supranationally, the EU could really flex it’s muscles and act as a powerful balancing lever in the next 100 years.

A goal for 2011.

I’m not a fan of resolutions, they often seem like a reason to just harp on about things you wish you’d do, rather than real goals set with a thought. But it is new year, and this does seem like as good a time as any to do this.

I’m going to live without supermarkets – or at least, I’m going to try. I’m not going to boycott anything, nor am I going to go out of my way to make my life more difficult than it need to be – but i am going to be making an effort to use the shops that are on my doorstep. I’m hoping this will make me think about what I’m eating, cook more often from scratch and to get to know more people in the community I live in rather than the faceless self-check out machines that are increasingly de jour in my local big brand supermarkets.

I do however live in the real world, I’m not expecting this to be a 100% successful experiment initially, but I am going to be making a real effort, and hopefully saving some money along the way to – indeed I hope to save so much money that on the nights when traditionally a splurge of expensive ‘luxury’ ready meals might have been the order of the day that I instead use that money to wander down to a cafe or restaurant instead – once again, doing my bit for the community that I live in.

iPhone fault.

In a post that’s guaranteed to get a least a few comments asking me to buy a proper alarm clock (which I own but is presently in storage). I must add my voice to the growing number of people complaining about the iPhone alarm bug.  I have many recurring alarms on my iPhone, the idea being that it slowly wakes me up with increasingly irritating sounds groups closer and closer together to guarantee that at least one alarm with irritate me sufficiently to get out of bed… so to have them all fail this morning and yesterday morning wasn’t ideal – both days I’ve overslept massively and I’ve had to have late nights to make up for the late start – just compounding the problem.

So please Apple: some of us have spent a lot of money with you over the years, we’ve stuck by bad products and poor customer services for the times when you get it really properly right, there are many issues with the iPhone that I can overlook for the wider benefits of what’s generally quite a good platform, but for crying out loud, an alarm clock isn’t cutting edge, I think every phone I’ve ever owned has had one, and oddly – failing battery failure – none, NONE, have ever failed me. You’ve promised a fix – but then you’ve done that before. So please sort it out.

Well that was 2010

2010, what a year – highs and lows of amazing and awful proportion. On balance it’s a year I think I’m going to want to forget – not however that I’m going to want to forget the lessons from…

I don’t believe in resolutions, but I do have goals that I review weekly, monthly and annually – most of them are horribly mundane: my way of making sure the tasks of the day whether work or domestic get done – others are less so.

So in this coming year I want to

  • Settle down into a house that we intend to stay in for some time and looking at renting a place in Germany that we can consider a second home
  • I want to travel more, this means putting the car on the road and ensuring there’s a ready pot of ferry, petrol, hotel and food money stashed away for last minute urges to be on the continent.
  • I want to re-evaluate how and where I work, if there are new challenges now is the time to take them.
  • I want to make as much money as I did in 2008/9 – I know what I need to do this, so I just need to get on and do it.
  • I want to eat better stuff: I’ve had it with being a slave to the supermarket, from now on I’m going to buy local and regularly rather than in a warehouse weekly.
  • I want to digitise my whole audio collection – I’ve got tonnes of music on CDs, Tapes, Reels, Records and MiniDiscs, I want them all at the click of a button on my Mac.
  • I want to write a book – I’ve been thinking about it for ages, I know what I want to write about, christ I’m an expert in it! So I need to dedicate some time to making it happen.
  • I want to DJ more too – you’ll see a broadcaster page appearing soon with a showreel and links to programmes and shows I’m presenting or producing.

This isn’t a list of resolutions, and it’s not really a blog post, more a note to myself in a place I know I’m going to have to look at.

It’s so quiet.

So here we are, just after Christmas – I hope you had a good one. It’s been a little quiet on this front; a combination of work and moving house… so boxes everywhere, lots in storage, and a date not quite set for moving into the new place at some point in early January. I do however have a few articles that I’ve written while offline which I’ll be uploading this week.

All change in the political blogging world.

So Tory Bear is no longer so Tory, he’ll be going about his business as plain old Harry Cole from now on – whether that’s going to make much of a difference to his media profile who knows, his editorship of Order-Order surely won’t hurt his continued presence in the media even if he is losing the cutesy website filled with reasonably inconsqeuential gossip and ranting.

The bigger news in the blogging world is Iain Dale – who after much umming and arring, and a frankly miserable year of half-hearted blogging has decided to quit his blog to concentrate on his radio presentation and Biteback publishing. I’ll miss Iain: I hope he reconsiders his position as he’s often been a centrist voice and that’ll be what’s needed as the coalition rumbles along toward the next election.

A must read.

Over at Order Order, Guido Fawkes has published a rallying cry for all entreprenuers to get behind; a defence of Phillip Green. Very rarely do you see the case being made for the people that risk everything to start businesses being made so succinctly.

I’ve given houses, relationships, credit records, personal belongings and my social life to the businesses that I’ve been involved in running over the years – don’t get me wrong, when the times are good, it can be great, but when it all goes wrong it can be horrific – and all the time the British distain of entreprenualiasm and risk dogs you, while generation after generations of our politicians insist on double taxing business owners, making SMEs subsidise employee taxes and wrapping businesses up in red tape and restrictive tax regimes – It’s really no surprise at all that those that get to the stage where they can afford to move their liability do so – and they do so perfectly legally.

Have a look at Guido’s article now – and the next time you see an over-stuffed leftie ranting in front of top shop, or from her overpaid, over exposed Grauniad column, think of the shit that most people that run the backbone of this countries small and medium businesses go through every day to subsidise a state that doesn’t support business and feels it has a right to steal and cheat from anyone that dares take a risk setting up a new business.

Clearing snow is a civic duty.

I’m on Snow again, you’ll have to excuse this mini-obsession. The UK needs to stop treating heavy snowfall in the same manner it treats a dusting – and this time I’m not talking about the media. What I’m talking about is the physical way that we’re handling snow. Our obsession with salt, salt reserves and liberally throwing salt onto every highway and byway is bloody ludicrous! Salt only makes a difference if the temperatures are above -8, which in many places in the UK they’re not. Doesn’t matter how much you spread, it won’t make a blind bit of difference.

It’s refreshing to see more snow ploughs on display this year, but they’re not scraping the road anywhere near close enough to avoid humps of slush and we’re not following ploughs with standard road sweepers – they do this in almost every other country with heavy snowfall in Europe; and it’s this step that avoids the slush piles that so plague our major trunk routes. Councils actually need to train their staff to understand what is and isn’t appropriate in snow,  or any other severe weather, so we maintain some level of structural cohesion in our transport network.

Worse thatn that though, is the whinging, endless streams of people whinging they “couldn’t get to work” – “I couldn’t even get out of my drive“: yes dear, that’s because you didn’t shovel or brush it clear did you? You just stomped on the gas in first and spun the wheels till you were satisfied that you’d be going nowhere. Up and down the country people are sitting bone idle at home when a brush or a snow-shovel would have had them out onto reasonably passable roads in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes work.

Of course we do need clarification of the law in the UK to cover your personal civic duty, especially when it comes to clearing snow: elsewhere it’s your civic duty to clear your own drive and the pavement to your house, no fannying about – if the council find you’ve not done it, they’ll bill you for doing it themselves – the result, millions of people clear their own property and immediate roadways allowing gritters, ploughs and sweepers to keep major routes open rather than pootling around every estate with a gang of men salting pavements to ensure Mrs.Miggins’ doesn’t do her hip in.

Eight times in the last 48 hours I’ve heard Health & Safety dragged up as a reason for not clearing your own personal drive and pavement, and yes in the UK someone could sue you – but 1) why don’t you have personal liability insurance? and 2) to sue you, and win they’d have to contest that you maliciously salted or cleared, or  that you’d shown provable negligence in the way you’d done it. Tort law.  A law that’s almost always on your side… so come on, get off your arse, pick up a broom and a shovel and clear your drive, your pavement and the ramp to the road, you’ll be doing yourself and your neighbourhood a real favour.