EOW Reflections: There’s a lot we can achieve by getting together, planning and doing

This week I found myself saying more than once: ‘don’t expect Government to do it all; there’s a lot we can achieve by just getting together, planning and doing.’

We talked about e-invoicing this week and the difference having firms adopt and embrace the technology would make to all manner of bottom lines. Other countries across the globe have welcomed e-invoicing with open arms, with some governments mandating it. The benefits to firms of all sizes, in addition to better payment processes and quicker payments, increased productivity and growth, are hailed far and wide. The UK is however, well behind the curve. However some big companies have cracked it or are working on it and bringing their supplier on side.

We also talked about getting investors to ask questions about how well bigger customers treat their smaller suppliers, with payment practices being a relatively easy measure. When investors want to see ethical behaviour and good processes, supporting, nurturing and working in partnership and collaboration with suppliers, bigger companies do tend to focus and improve. We need to persuade the investors to lead the way.

Another meeting raised the issue of help and support for small businesses and the fact that it’s all out there but it’s very difficult to get your hands on the right support at the right time for the right stage of your business. Smaller businesses constantly cite the need to have one point of entry into the support and information available, rather than struggling to make sense of it and doing nothing. The technology is there, we just need a willing group to want it enough to invest.

And then there’s the question that comes up every week on how to ‘educate’ small businesses to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently. I rebel over the word ‘educate’ as that puts the onus on small firms when their bigger customers, which already have the policies and processes in place, could easily share and facilitate efficacy and efficiency. The bigger firms already doing this are reaping the benefits of having helped their smaller suppliers to invest and improve and become better partners to work with.

In all these conversations, and just about every other one I’m involved in, people ask: why isn’t the Government doing more? Or: what do we want the Government to do? It’s at this point in meetings that I increasingly I find myself saying, ‘the Government can’t do everything and even if they did have the will to do everything, we could be waiting for years for legislation to come into force so let’s get on with it in the meantime and see what we can achieve for ourselves’.

My team is stretched. The Department for Business is stretched. Government at all levels in all departments have huge ‘to do’ lists. And sometimes there is no slack to pick up anything other than the priorities as they see them. On the other hand, if we take time to listen and appreciate the problem that needs fixed, get our heads around the solutions being proposed and say ‘yes, we get it and we back it/support your direction of travel/want it to happen’ that mandate alone is often enough to galvanise industry, stakeholders, investors, commentators, influencers to convene and make things happen. Government often doesn’t need to do the doing, or to pay for a project. Sometimes it just needs to say the right thing and someone else who has been hesitant will step forward and pull together the game changer.

Sometimes we need to ‘ask not what your Government can do for you, but what you can do for your Government, and your country.