13 December 2010

At the CBI awards at the Midland Hotel on Friday, I sat and listened to a very clever man, Jon Moulton, put some of our country’s problems into plain and simple English. “For every £3 the government earns, they are spending £4.” So, to break even they’d have to reduce spending by 28%. How can this happen?

Charles Dickens famously said:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

With all the technology at our fingertips in today’s society how can we not balance the books? Where else in the world can you get away from this sort of lack of control where you can spend more than you make? Oh yes, I forgot, the Banks!

Between the previous government and the banking community we really have been cast out to sea. Yet in spite of all the warning signs, the government continue to spend like it’s “going out of fashion,” and sadly our once great nation is doing just that.

To make matters worse, we have a disproportionate number of school leavers wanting to please parents by going to University. It’s become fashionable. Everyone’s kid on everyone’s street has to go to university or they are made to feel inadequate.

And where does that leave us? Well, with a big shortage of tradesmen, plumbers, laborers, plasters, electricians, builders, and too many students. The majority, who leave university with a degree in a subject they will never develop, massive debt and no real skills of any use to the new employer, who has to now start to train and prepare them for industry.

When I was 19, I had bought my first flat. It had 4 bedrooms and it cost around the same amount most students are indebted for when they now leave Uni. I was just lucky. I couldn’t afford to go to University. Plus, I was considered too dumb.

I am a great believer in setting yourself up for success but look at the government and their propensity to spend money we don’t have and their desire to pick on the defenseless, namely the students who have been lead in to a quagmire of debt, only to be told that it’s just about to get worse.

I don’t condone the riots in London last week but the same time I understand what it’s like to be suffocated, and the only thing to do when you are beaten and suppressed is to fight back. The problem is that there is no vehicle to do so in this country. So, under pressure, fuelled by cheap alcohol, they let themselves and their fellow UK citizens down.

Sitting in the London Palladium, you’d not have known there was a full-scale riot going on in the capital. When Prince Charles and Camilla arrived and sat down in their box overlooking the stage, you’d never have guessed that they’d been through such an ordeal.

I’d popped out just before the Royal Variety show started and saw the car that Price Charles arrived in. It had been attacked by thugs and a window was broken. Can you imagine what went through their minds as their car was set upon? And when the police were criticized for bringing the Royals to the Palladium, knowing there were violent demonstrations going on, Charles merely said, “you can’t have a Royal Variety performance without Royalty.” And that was that. Looking at the pictures, you can see Charles sitting upright throughout the ordeal; you have to admire his courage. I could not have remained so composed.

How do you tell a government that we are setting our next generations up for an even bigger failure when they can’t see and won’t listen?

There are so many areas where the government could focus its attention. We could get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. How much better off would the UK economy be (let alone the parents of our brave soldiers who lost their lives) if we’d not been misled into the “War on Terror” in the beginning?

We’d be significantly better off.

It’s a back-to-front society, where the politicians are untouchable.

As entrepreneurs, we are a group of people who do not have it as easy. We do not have a cushion to fall back on and the state that we so eagerly feed crushes anyone who fails to comply or who falls behind with taxes. Unlike when the banks mess up, small businesses are literarily wound up. And for those of us who make it, we are then continually wound up by the civil servants chasing our tax in a manner that is indefensible; there is not a business in the world that would survive with the customer service skills of a tax collector.

Ironically, “we are the hand that feeds” yet they devour our earnings in the guise of taxation. To add insult to injury, they waste money because the people managing it do not understand just how hard it is to earn.  I really wouldn’t feel this way if I knew they were spending our money wisely on good causes, but with the Expenses Scandals still fresh in our minds it is very difficult to trust.

If only we could take every politician and make them work a proper working week without expenses, on the minimum wage, as part of their induction. How long would it take before they start to see just how tough it is and learn the value of our currency? But even then, would they spend our taxes any the wiser? I doubt it.

Why do people who don’t understand how to generate money run our country and run our banks? This is fundamentally flawed because I don’t care what political or economic degrees today’s politicians have; how employable are the majority in industry?

And whilst London’s burning, the rest of us graft whilst the same people who are still lighting the fires, digging the UK into the biggest hole in its history, blame everybody but themselves.

And in a way, I can’t blame them either. They are leaderless too, rudderless, their jobs lack challenge and they are unable to think for themselves. What can they do about this spiraling problem?

Raise the VAT, charge the students, sell the gold, etc.

With all the riots, the bank problems and the worries of the wider economy and global recession, a couple of weeks ago, I sat with my 2 little girls trying to explain to a 4 and 7 year old that there are other children so less fortunate than us, and whilst we crammed presents in to shoe boxes, yes, shoe boxes in wrapping paper, I fought back tears as Gail explained why we were putting tooth brushes in there too.

It’s a messed up world out there and if there ever was a time for people in business to come together and make a difference, it is now. It makes good business sense too, to help those around you in your community whilst you still have one.

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