The Rise of the Modern British Entrepreneur

Taken by William Murphy and posted on

The world of work across the world has changed beyond all recognition over the last 25 years. With the financial meltdown of the global banking system and the collapse of global moguls, trust in the system was completely shattered by the end of 2008.

This process of change however started much earlier for the UK with the rise of Thatcherism in the 1980s.The prevailing attitude was that everyone could be an entrepeneur and there was a feeling that capitalism was invincible. There was in other words, a sea change in attitude as well as in behaviour. Greed was good.

From that time the need for huge numbers of workers was no longer the norm. Workers had to reinvent themselves as well as accept a massive change to their lives and lifestyles. Sometimes this was a bridge too far for many. Their attitudes, skills and knowledge made them redundant overnight.

Like the older workers from the former steel and coal communities who were unable to re-skill for the new economy, the redundant bankers who came later found they too were equally ill equipped.

An economy of tourism and other service lead businesses emerged. Often these businesses needed customer service skills not often found in the stock exchange or down the mining pits. It was difficult for these workers to take up lower paid and lower status jobs even if they were available.

Instability, loss of status, and an increase in corporate redundancy due to greater globalisation of capital could not be balanced with the free movement of labour and skills.

A backdrop to this social and economic change was the influence of the British media, full of role models of the modern entrepreneur.

TV, books and films showed figures such as Sir Richard Branson, Anthony Balantyne and countless experts offering advice on how ailing companies could be ‘fixed’ (for example, traditional UK companies such as Morgan Cars, Wedgewood). The TV series Dragon’s Den rewarded entrepeneurs who could best sell their business ideas to a hard-nosed panel of millionaire investors, after undergoing a gruelling questioning session in front of the cameras.

Status was also afforded to businesses leaders with the awarding of knighthoods, such as that for Sir Richard Branson.

High status individuals such as Prince Charles spearheaded start-up businesses through The Prince’s Trust, so that even the under privileged could be business owners. The love affair with the entrepeneur continues even today with TV channels showing programmes such as Mr Selfridge.

Perhaps the biggest influence has come from the USA. Always influential and looked up to by the British people since the 1920s and 1930s, where fashion, music and – of course – the world of cinema showcased America’s wealth of creativity and capital.

American business ideas had led the way since the post war years, but after a ten year lag, these influences hit the shores of the UK. With time, the British caught up with the likes of Anthony Robbins, and, not wishing to be outdone, have thus adopted and adapted these ideas for themselves. With an element of jealousy and pride, the UK has cranked up its creativity and, once focused, has exported its own brand of culture.

British popular culture is not new, but it is only more recently that it has been recognised as an established ‘industry’ and a vital part of the UK economy.

From the Beatles, through to the Sex Pistols, boy bands and ‘girl power’ the trend has gathered momentum for over 40 years and been exported globally as ‘Brit pop’.

The British Royal family are probably the most well-known ‘brand’ to come out of the UK. In fact the Queen has her own distinct brand, easily recognisable and global.

Over the last fifteen years, successive governments have invested public money and European Social Fund (ESF) money into start up business enterprises through training and business support. The UK government set up Business Link to support businesses, with information, advice and training; however, due to cutbacks over the last ten years, these kinds of projects have been clawed back or closed completely. ESF money has been switched from advanced economies such as the UK to more emerging countries from Eastern Europe. Since the 1970s, there has been a massive reduction in traditional manufacturing, in particular car manufacturing and the steel and coal industries. As has been well documented, manufacturing has moved to lower cost base economies such as India, China, South America, Malaysia and the Far East. British governments have failed to invest in large scale industry and instead have focused their attention on building a knowledge based economy. Areas such as IT, pharmaceuticals, research and bio science have become more predominant.

Start it Smart

The source of the photo is by Own work. The author is Start It Smart. From Wikimedia Commons.

There has been much more of a focus on businesses that are in tune with individualism rather than collectivism. Individuals are expected to look after themselves rather than the state. Governments of every flavour have battled with unemployment remaining at the three million mark. These figures are often manipulated by various systems of calculation, but one uncomfortable and difficult fact emerges – not all of those unemployed could benefit from this new reality. Through fear of losing popularity, governments have moved away from high taxation. David Cameron won last year’s election on a ticket of low taxation and control of the economy; the Labour Party lost because it was perceived to be unable to handle the economy.

The British economy continues to flounder, due to enormous deficit and the inability of the political classes to persuade the British taxpayer to pay for the investment required to develop the country for the future.

Successive governments do not want to spend public money. In fact, there is a continual clawback of public spending. Although there have been many initiatives to create private/public partnerships, there has been a decline in capital investment in roads, power and transportation and the infrastructure needed to move the UK into the new millennium.

David Cameron hopes that the global private sector will take up the bulk of investment and actively encourages overseas investment. Recent commitments from the Chinese to invest in a new nuclear power station are a clear example of this.

So where does this leave us? Clearly, apart from these headline grabbing foreign investment initiatives, the UK economy has to rely on individuals who make up the bulk of the growth in the economy. Sometimes there are strange bedfellows in this mix, with not-for-profit, the voluntary and community sectors working alongside businesses, the public sector and the emerging entrepreneurial sector.

Deregulation of laws regarding employees have allowed a massive flow of ideas and energy into the economy. The UK has for a long time had a more easy-going approach towards regulation and entrepreneurship compared with both France and Germany. There has been a history of state intervention within those two countries and a tradition of strong as well as large union membership, something not seen since Thatcherism in Britain. There is an almost natural movement for those within the UK to look to themselves to find a way forward for their own economic stability. However, there are those who find themselves without the right skills to operate effectively in this kind of economic and political environment. These individuals from the old industries and the young generation on short-term or zero-hour contracts will be those who will join the ranks of the entrepreneur, not through choice but from the lack of it.

Global Seven News

David Somers

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