> Seriously Speaking: Inspiring North East Futures

Business support should be delivered by business and not by the public sector’ was the topic of an energetic debate in Newcastle last night. ‘Seriously Speaking’ – an event organised by Business Link Tyne & Wear and communications agency bmarketing, saw over 100 local entrepreneurs, business support representatives and business owners gather to put forward their views and experiences.

The Chairman for the debate, Chris Thompson of the Express Group refereed the proceedings, managing dozens of questions put forward to the panellists who put on an energetic and impassioned performance.

Speaking in favour of the motion was a panel of leading business people from the region – Caroline Theobald (Bridge Club, Think Diffierently), Rita Esen (Cyberlaw) and Nathan Pellow (Enabling Concepts) - headed up by Ward Hadaway’s Colin Hewitt.

Supporting the public sector and standing against the motion stood David Slater (GONE), Karen Langdon (Business Link TW) and Gareth Trainer (Newcastle University) – headed up by CEO of Business Link TW, Dan Brophy.

The debate raised some excellent issues for debate, Karen Langdon summarising well that ‘the public sector should not – and does not – try to be all things to everyone; it’s about working together with the private sector.’ One way in which this is currently happening and which even Panel Leader Colin Hewitt welcomed was the move towards the more diagnostic elements of public sector support – which he said ‘provide a useful framework in which the public and private sectors can work together.’ This ‘diagnostic’ approach is currently working well across the region – with business advisors visiting businesses to identify and analyse their support needs, and then directing them to a choice of recommended private sector ‘experts’. This seems to be a win-win situation with which few people at the debate disagreed.
The more contentious issues of the night surrounded the ability of public sector support bodies to really understand the realities of running a business first hand – the risks, the levels of passion and personal involvement – and yes – the desire to make profit. This desire to make profit was identified by the public sector panellists as the key motivator for the ‘profiteering private sector’ – although this argument was countered by many individuals on the floor who voiced the feeling that, although profit is a necessary outcome, it is not always the driver for success; or indeed the measure of success.

Following an energetic hour of questions and debates, the floor was asked to vote in favour for or against the motion – in the hope that the 20 or 30 ‘fence sitters’ would have been convinced in favour of one side or the other. In reality, the vote remained pretty much even – with the agreed outcome being that the only real way to improve access to and quality of business support in the region, is to improve the way in which the private and public sector work together to provide expert support directly to businesses at all stages of their development. Both sides also agreed that both sectors share a responsibility not only to provide this specific expert support to businesses, but also to inspire ambition within – and thereby create further wealth for – the region as a whole.

Seriously Speaking hopes to mark the start of a new way for micro business owners and entrepreneurs to debate and feed real information through to the decision makers of the region. As bmarketing’s MD, Siobhan Bales comments: "'Seriously Speaking' has been established to create a time and a place for NE businesses to come together and focus on pertinent issues facing them. Encouraging honest, open discussion and considering innovative and creative ways to improve the position of business in the future.

The realisation that we are all keen to improve our businesses, the environment in which they grow and flourish and the infrastructure they sit within needs to have a focal point to ensure change does happen, with our input. 'Seriously Speaking' is an attempt to help small businesses inform change in our region and beyond. Ultimately, this event hoped to be thought provoking and challenging, yielding some original perspectives on business support that can be fed back directly to the decision makers of our region. We think we’ve achieved this.”

The event was held in Bar Beyond at The Gate, who we’d like to thank for the use of their excellent facilities. If you would like to hold and event at this venue or find out more about the facilities that they offer, contact Sarah on 0191 2221113, or check out http://www.beyondbargrill.com