Friday, 18 July 2008

Praise for Sheffield

Earlier this week I attended a meeting of the Federation of Small Businesses held courtesy of Costco in Sheffield. The meeting had been trailed as the launch in South Yorkshire of the Federation's 'Keep Trade Local' (KTL)campaign, something which has been the focus of my attention for a number of reasons recently and the keynote speaker was to be none other than the Leader of Sheffield Council, Councillor Paul Scriven.

Because I had not been fully engaged with the 'KTL' campaign for reasons that I have discussed with the FSB nationally I arrived at the meeting fully expecting to be at odds with the Federation and that a politician was to address us might simply add fuel to my concerns. In the event I was delighted to find that the evening was full of very positive surprises; the first came with a short chat with the local FSB chairman, Tony Cherry, who told me more about the background behind the 'KTL' campaign than anyone in the FSB had previously managed and it was fascinating. I discovered that the idea had been born, not in the FSB offices in London, where currently the campaign seems to be managed from, but in Sheffield. I learned that it had come about because of the concerns by the local FSB members that in the wake of the June 2007 floods the area was swamped by companies being brought in by insurers to carry out the remedial works that were desperately needed. Why, they asked, were local firms not used by the insurers?

The FSB 'Keep Business Local' campaign has been seen by many, including myself, as essentially a campaign about local food retailing - but I was wrong. It is much more, and includes the idea that procurement by governmental and publicly funded organisations should enable tendering by small businesses. Which is the cue to introduce Councillor Paul Scriven, the Leader of Sheffield City Council.

Cllr Scriven formed his administration after the recent local elections and apparently began his period in office with a most un-politicianlike apology to businesses in Sheffield. The apology was made, he said, because he felt the the City Council had for some time not been responsive to the needs of businesses and, possibly worse, had created an environment that was not conducive for local businesses to thrive. He then laid out the plans that he was putting into place to change things around. He has already appointed a new Cabinet Member for Employment and Enterprise and is intending a whole raft of new measures including semi-formal structures for consulting with local businesses of all sizes.

It remains to be seen whether Cllr Scriven will be successful with his initiatives, but I have to say that I have been around local politicians for a very long time and it was the first time that I have seen simple responses to the questions that were put by local people. These answers seemed considered, honest and most importantly straightforward and short! I think that we will hear more of Councillor Scriven and Sheffield City Council, which I applaud and wish well in their endeavours.

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