It was therefore with a degree of scepticism that I accepted an invitation as “A female business owner who will shape the future face of enterprise in the UK” – to join fellow female business owners from the length and breadth of the UK at Westminster to attend a Government consultation exercise and contribute to a strategy document.
Entitled “The 11th Women’s Entrepreneurs Enterprise Consultation Event,” the session was led by a panel including the Minister of State for Competitiveness, Stephen Timms. Also present were the good and great from Regional Development Agencies – our highly accountable regional custodians –represented by Seeda (South East England Development Agency) CEO and women’s champion, Pam Alexander.
The elegant room was charged with the energy and buzz of people who are excited about making changes for the better. Some of the inspirational entrepreneurs included Margaret Wood, chair of development agency Wakefield First and founder of award-winning ICW modular glazed systems.
Our particular breakout group, equipped with a Government “scribe”, was tasked with identifying issues and challenges centred on business growth. Responses articulating our aspirations and frustrations flowed thick and fast and included funding, business support – and lack of self esteem. This was duly logged by our scribe and each table nominated a spokesperson to relay our suggestions on how the RDA’s can encourage and support start ups and growing enterprises. Seeking evidence that the panel was wholly accountable and passionate about making a difference, my enthusiasm and energy levels began to wane when my questions (we were also asked to submit written queries) on how the Women’s Task Force initiated by Margaret Hodge had performed against its objectives over the last 12 months, went unanswered – as did a query on how the Government intends to make Business Links across the country accountable.
The following day my cynicism was further exacerbated by nagging doubts as to exactly how our contributions to the strategy would be taken forward when I received a follow up self-congratulatory “thank you” email saying: “Yes, Government has done well over the last ten years (we had not been asked if Government had performed well, badly or indifferently!) and we have an environment in the UK that encourages and supports entrepreneurs”.
Fast forward another two weeks and the rot truly set in with a Sunday Times revelation of free-spending RDAs clocking up the most expensive flights and corporate entertainment on tax payers’ hard earned money.
Making the headlines was Seeda which had wasted over £50k on cars and other luxuries – £18k of which was run up by Pam Alexander whose photograph was prominently splashed across the article.
So much for our accountable and transparent custodians – and I won’t be holding my breath for the launch of the new framework document next spring.