It may not have seemed like it at the time but growing up on a farm was growing up in the family business. There were fields to run around, streams to get mud covered in and horses, dogs and sheep to play with. The business of producing a livelihood for a family of five as well as paying suppliers of animal food and farm equipment, plus labour for hay and crop processing was the bit we didn’t see as kids. When a valuable animal died, some accident struck or the paperwork deadlines loomed there was a different, far more serious, air around the otherwise cheerfully bustling yards. Most of the time it seemed more playground than factory floor but even then, as soon as we were big enough we were all expected to play our part. Strangely I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in wellies, covered in animal excrement.
My grandad was a builder of lovely houses, but couldn’t put up a shelf – or was that a myth he circulated to avoid the finishing and interiors? His sister ran her own corner shop which was a constant source of free sweets.
Later I went on to make 60 small business programmes for BBC2 as well as supplying many business reports and programmes to Radio 4 and the importance of family businesses to the UK economy started to hit home. These aren’t just firms set up to feed families.
John Stevenson is the MP for Carlisle and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Businesses, about which he is passionate, says: “Family businesses are hugely important to our national economy but also to local areas. They make a substantial contribution to the exchequer and provide employment for millions. However they also provide an important extra added value to communities by their commitment and leadership which goes beyond economic value. Family businesses are a force for good and it is absolutely right that we celebrate them this week”
Oxford Economics estimated that there were around 4.8 million family-owned businesses in the UK in 2017, almost 3.9 million of which have no employees. That constitutes 85.1 per cent of all private sector firms in the country in every region and industrial sector. They generated £598 billion gross value added contribution to UK GDP in 2017 and paid £182 billion in taxes. This was equivalent to 24.8 per cent of total government revenue; a contribution big enough to fund the entire expenditure of the NHS in 2017/18.
Martin Stepek, CEO of the Scottish Family Business Association says: “Family business are misunderstood and sadly all too often ignored. Culturally they’re very varied and most important in societal terms is their loyalty and commitment to place and people, which matters hugely in remote or rural communities, such as vast areas of Scotland. What form of enterprise other than a family business would retain its global headquarters in places so little known that most people would struggle to place them on a map? Walkers Shortbread is in Aberlour, north of the Cairngorms National Park, whilst Baxters, the soup business, is a little further north, in Fochabers. Place matters because the owning families and their ancestors were born and raised in these often out of the way communities. There is a social bond, which extends to the employees, often considered extended family of the owners”.
I wish I’d recognised all this when I was younger and appreciated better what I was growing up as a part of. Here’s to those very important family businesses and their amazing impact and contribution.