The Great Disconnect

I am writing this on the morning that we are told the Eurozone is probably out of recession and having listened to radio 4 on the way to work being told about the misuse of statistics. The example I enjoyed, and forgive me if my percentage is not quite right, was that in a recently survey 73% of the British public cannot speak a foreign language well. But this means that 27% can speak a foreign language well – that I find hard to believe but, of course, with our multicultural make up if that survey was done in areas with a high migrant population it could well be true because I am sure we are all aware of areas where the prevalent language is not English.

However, this made me consider how we get misled by statistics and information. I am neither saying that the information is wrong nor the statistics incorrect but that often the way they are presented can often give us a false impression.  The problem is that then flows into Government and many in Public office make decisions based upon this sort of information.  Much is made of the plight of small business and more importantly because it is believed that small businesses are the businesses which will bring UK out of recession the need to make the commercial environment better for them. The Government harks on about the barriers to growth for small business such as red tape, lack of finance and lack of skilled staff but as someone advising many small businesses I know the majority do not want to grow. The reason is that they are lifestyle businesses which are there to produce family income and the owners don’t want to grow the business past their own individual needs and capabilities. But where does Government get its information. Well often it is from surveys and statistics produced for them by others.

Only last week I received a copy of an excellent glossy report looking at the problems facing small business and how they might be addressed. I was looking at some of the conclusions and was thinking that it had elements of truth within it but it did not overall tally with the main points that I heard from my clients. It was then that I came to the page explaining how they had found their information – they had surveyed ‘small companies’ which had turnovers (again forgive me if I’m not quite right but it will give you the feel) of between £50 million and £250 million and employing less than 500 people.  My practices acts for well in excess of 500 small businesses and less than 1% would fall into this bracket!

It is when you start realising how removed from reality the information reaching our decision makers might be you can understand, though possibly not forgive, some of the misconceptions that create policy.  We see this in so many small ways not least being the issue of pay and remuneration. The BBC has been called to task over severance packages being more than contractually entitled but even the contractual entitlements seem to the ‘normal’ business to be out of the ordinary. This may be because the media and statistics are all about the excesses seen in big businesses and not the reality of small everyday business. I always wonder why public severance deals are not just statutory entitlements as after all it was Government that set those statutory entitlements. Do we presume that Public employees will leave their superannuation pension schemes and be enrolled into the auto enrolment schemes of insurance backed pensions which ordinary employees are being forced to take out. This, at a time, when the returns on Financial Investments are being shown to be less than just leaving money in a building society and paying tax on it; because of all the charges that are levied by the financial intermediaries.

At the moment political capital is being traded over zero hour contracts – I am certainly not going to say what my view of them is – but will make the observation that of my clients who use them almost all are in businesses being paid controlled monies by Government – in particular care providers.  Providers of care in the community tell us all the time that nothing meaningful can be delivered in under and hour but it is the QCC and Social Services who still insist of 15 minute delivery.

I look forward to the day when some PLC director on his large basic salary, bonus scheme, share options and benefits is asked to give a personal guarantee supported by a charge on his house for the money the bank is about to lend to the company.

We so often hear that politicians do not have a connection with the grass roots economy and the real world – when you look at the information they receive maybe we can understand why but that does not mean we should condone it.