“Small businesses are the engine of the economy,” David Cameron declared in his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. He outlined measures by which banks are to be encouraged to lend to small businesses. These businesses, he said, are Britain’s “real economy” and are vital to “unlocking growth”.
However, fellow Conservative MP Andrew Bingham got there before him. “The prime minister used this phrase in his speech but I used it first,” he says. “These small businesses really are the engine room of the economy.”
Since his election to Parliament in 2010, Bingham has “made it a bit of a thing of mine”, as he puts it, to champion the contribution of small businesses. So he recently organised a ‘small business day’ in his High Peak constituency to help local businesses gain access to people, firms and advice that they are usually excluded from because of their size. It was proved a success – over 80 small businesses attended, as did the financial secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, Barclays bank and many others. For this innovation, Andrew Bingham is our MP of the month.
The difficulty of running a small business is something that Bingham is well acquainted with. He ran his own small firm for 20 years, before entering Parliament. It distributed engineering equipment across High Peak and the north west of England. His idea for the small business day grew directly out of his own experience.
“For large companies there’s always help, groups, organisations,” Bingham says. “Also large businesses have in-house people who can handle various things, but all these small businesses are very much on their own.
“The idea came to me – why don’t we have something specifically designed to help small businesses that can take place on a single day?”
Determined to offer something that would be of genuine use to small business owners, Bingham set about organising a programme of speakers that ended up including Hoban, Robert Craven of Barclays, David Lunt of the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) and Paul Evans of BT. Bingham even called in a favour from his brother Ian, a tax partner at accountancy firm PKF (UK), who came to offer advice to small business owners about recent government changes to the tax system and how they might be affected.
Getting Mark Hoban along was vital to the day’s success, Bingham says. “It was a really good chance not only to listen to what the minister had to say but actually to tell the minister what it’s like out there in the cold harsh world.”
Another highlight of the day was the presentation from Robert Craven of Barclays, entitled ‘ten things to grow your business in ten days’.
“He was brilliant. It wasn’t your standard powerpoint presentation. He was very fresh and inspiring. These small companies, normally they can’t go to these events, because they charge a fortune.
“I could see people scribbling down things that if you’re running your own business you might not think of. My experience running my business was that you get that close to it sometimes you can’t see the obvious. His first recommendation was ‘put your prices up’. You know you could almost hear the sharp intake of breath before he explained!”
The fact that over 80 small businesses were represented at the day is a strong indicator of its success, but praise has also been forthcoming from elsewhere. Bingham reports that he’s since run into Mark Hoban in the Commons and the minister has reiterated his support. Other MPs have also expressed interest in borrowing Bingham’s formula for their own areas.
“I’ve spoken to two other colleagues who I’ve given some of the material to and they’re looking to roll it out in their constituencies,” he says. “I’m all for sharing it with everybody.”
Bingham is modest about the success of his idea, taking satisfaction that “it seemed to strike a chord with people”.
“It’s tough out there. I ran my business through a couple of recessions and it is a very difficult and lonely path to tread sometimes. And if there’s anything I can do to help them as an MP, then I will.”
From the editor:
For his quiet determination to use his practical experience to help small businesses drive growth, Andrew Bingham is our MP of the month. He is a great example of an MP making full use of their experience outside politics. By drawing on his own knowledge of what it’s like to run a small business and leveraging his local connections, Bingham has come up with practical steps MPs can take in an area that is often distinguished by more talk than action. He feels strongly that MPs should be “playing to our strengths” like this so as to be “more use to our constituents”, an attitude that is likely to serve him well in the future. With the latest unemployment figures making uncomfortable reading, it may be campaigns like this that make a real difference to jobs.
Chris Williamson - Labour MP for Derby North
Chris receives his nomination this month for his efforts to support the workforce at the Bombardier plant in his constituency. Trains have been built in Derby for 180 years. After the £1.4bn contract for the Thameslink trains was awarded to Siemens in July this year, the company announced job losses of 1,400 at its Derby plant, a huge loss to the local economy and for the British rail industry. Chris has been very active in bringing the issue to wider attention by raising it in Prime Minister’s Questions and debates, and has worked closely with Bombardier staff, unions and local people to try and mitigate the impact of the cuts. A petition he organised in the area calling on the government to reverse the decision attracted over 50,000 signatures in just three weeks. His campaign even gained support from the local football team.
Richard Harrington - Conservative MP for Watford
Some 4,500 jobseekers turned out for the Watford Jobs Fair that Richard organised, and it is for this reason that he is nominated for MP of the month. Since his election in 2010, unemployment has been a particular focus for Richard. He brought together over 60 local organisations offering jobs, apprenticeships and advice in an attempt to provide a practical solution to his constituency’s unemployment problems. He says: “The idea of the jobs fair is to promote not only jobs but skills.” He’s since been in touch with the organisations and found that over 250 people had found jobs or apprenticeships through contacts they made at the fair, 100 of them in small local businesses. Four have even been helped to set up their own businesses.
Chris Ruane - Labour MP for the Vale of Clwyd
Chris was nominated for his research and campaign work on voter registration. It’s an issue he’s been working on long before it became a matter of wider interest. He worked hard to increase registration in his own constituency in the run up to the general election last year, and in the process highlighted many of the inadequacies of the voter registration system.
Through frequent contributions to debates on the subject, he has urged colleagues to follow his example in holding electoral registration officers to account.
As the government puts in motion plans to remove the obligation to register to vote, Chris is determined to step up his efforts on this issue – he’s very concerned about the potential ramifications of this proposal.