OK, I am not one for name dropping but I did have dinner with a cabinet minister last week. Thought you’d be impressed…Actually I guess you are probably not. Politicians rarely figure highly in any lists of people we respect. As estate agents seem to have been rehabilitated during the recent property slump, it is probably only senior bankers and News International executives that keep politicians off of the bottom at present.
Having said that, Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and the politician that I dined with last week, is deserving of respect. The dinner, organised by the London Local Chambers of Commerce Forum, had been arranged when he was a minister with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and he would have had every reasonable excuse to have cancelled following his elevation to the Cabinet. However not only did he honour his commitment, he also ensured that he was properly briefed to answer the questions asked of him, even though business was no longer his area of responsibility.
Chatham House rules dictate that I can’t share everything about the evening with you. However one thing in his opening remarks did stand out for me. He listed all of the areas that he had been responsible for in his previous role, which included postal affairs, competition policy, corporate governance, company law, the Insolvency Service, multilateral trade policy and the implementation of the single market.
A fearsome list, each of which you would expect to command 100% of his time. And yet alongside all of this, he presumably has other party and governmental responsibilities as well as looking after his constituency affairs. Obviously he has the use of a very able civil service (stop sniggering at the back) who, to be fair, did provide many of the answers that were given to our questions, but it is a timely reminder as to what a conscientious politician has to deal with, especially if they are also government ministers.
We should not feel too sorry for them though. Good politicians, like good business leaders surround themselves with good advisors, and to a certain extent they have to learn to trust the advice given by their officials. Without this supporting infrastructure they would simply not be able to function.
Building this infrastructure as an SME owner manager may seem daunting but it is not impossible. Even in the smallest businesses it is possible to put in place a virtual support team that you draw on as and when required. Flexible, part-time, outsourced, however you want to describe it, business expertise is now available at a lower cost and risk than ever before. Recognise what you are good at and what you need to delegate or outsource. Sometime politicians can set a good example.