Outside of academic papers that too rarely see the light of day, most "research" is unremarkable in its optimism about the state of entrepreneurship in the UK. That’s why the RSA’s Growing Pains: How the UK became a nation of “micropreneurs” caught my eye. It paints a stark picture. The UK, according to the report, has become a nation of micro businesses, while the proportion of high-growth businesses has plummeted: “UK businesses are becoming increasingly micro in size – reducing the overall potential for economic output and future growth, and increasing the economy’s reliance on a relatively small number of larger businesses.”
Since 2000, the proportion of businesses classified as micro (0-9 employees), as a share of all UK businesses has grown from 94.3 per cent of all private sector companies to 95.4%. This represents an additional 1.4 million micro firms and an increase over the same period of 43%.
“At the same time, the proportion of high-growth enterprises has declined sharply, falling by more than a fifth in the majority of regions since 2005.”
Although the number of high-growth firms is expected to rise over the coming years, the report cautions optimism: “performance is expected to remain below 2005 levels in all regions except London”.
So how can we solve the problem? According the entrepreneurs, the tax system (44%) is the biggest barrier to growth – ahead of a lack of bank lending (38%) and the cost of running a business (36%).
Another problem highlighted by the report is that entrepreneurs don't know what the government is up to:
“Around three-quarters (73%) of small business leaders also say the Government must make it easier for SMEs to access the right information and support for growth. While several of the Government’s recent incentives to support SMEs are designed to address the top-cited barriers, perhaps this information is not reaching the people who need it the most.”
Two polices are put forward in the conclusion to help entrepreneurs. First, “continued reform of the apprenticeship scheme could help micro firms to grow out of this business size category”. Second, “more tax relief like the National Insurance holiday could also pay real dividends.” It would be worth exploring the former in detail (something I plan to work on), but I don’t think another NI holiday goes nearly far enough: Employers' National Insurance should be scrapped entirely. And no just for small businesses.
Being an entrepreneur is tough. As the report points out, “the majority (55%) of new businesses don’t survive beyond five years.” Scrapping Employers' NI is the logical place to start.
Philip Salter is director of The Entrepreneurs Network.