This morning the MP for Witham, Priti Patel was speaking about the EU referendum on Radio 4, a subject for which her views are already very well known. She was after all a member of the Referendum Party before joining the Conservative Party. This is not news. In the context of the EU debate, she has surely used up her 15 minutes of air time or whatever each of us is entitled to? On this Mornings programme Ms Patel who is Minister for State for Employment in the Department for Work and Pensions focused specifically to the subject of small businesses as justification for her point of view. Her argument was clear and uncomplicated, if completely ignorant of the issues she was discussing. She argued that leaving the EU was in the interests of small businesses, because unlike larger companies, they lacked the representation at the EU from lobbyists and therefore their voices were not heard when regulations are being formed. Her view is that if instead of Brussels, that the rules and regulations which impact on small businesses such as the one I am part of were made in the UK, that our views and needs would be better represented and we would get a better deal. There are two problems with her arguments:
There are not many business networks that small businesses do get involved in, as most of them are working very hard to make a living and employ people. Apart from local business networks that run Breakfast and Lunch or Dinner clubs, the three I am aware of are BNI which is not at all focused on anything other than local networking, Federation of Small Businesses and Chambers of Commerce. Both of the latter two do in fact have voices in Brussels as well as in Westminster so the argument from Priti Patel is completely false on that account.
Secondly if the regulations which Ms Patel referred to (she seemed incabable of listing more than a couple while on the radio) were governed from Westminster, there is a false assumption in her argument that businesses would be listened to and consulted by our Government. In practice the large businesses which she referred to (and which she use to represent when she was a lobbyist) are dominant voices buy more influence in Westminster as well as Strassbourg/Brussels. As part of a small business I know that we feel as ignored by Westminster as we do by the EU. In fact the EU seems a bit better at challenging big business for its failings than Westminster is.
Most small businesses are fans of openess and honesty. If Priti Patel wants to speak on behalf of herself or indeed on behalf of the Euro Sceptics in her party and UKIP etc, then at least we would know she was speaking with some level of honesty. She knows nothing about small businesses (check out her CV) and she is simply using us a shield for her own views. If the BBC want the voice of small business to be heard, she is definitely the wrong person for them to interview. Bizarrely the Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, Amjad Bashir describes himself as the Conservative Spokesman for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. One would have thought he was actually very well placed to ensure that the work of FSB and BCC are well heard in the EU, but of course he wants us to leave the organisation that currently pays his wage, so perhaps he is part of the problem, rather than someone fighting for our corner.