Sadly, it looks like our manufacturing heritage is about to slide into obscurity unless some radical intervention takes place.
Reading between the lines, I sense the Government may know this despite the rhetoric, and as such the excitement on AI and technology is taking centre stage.
New workstreams offer promise and I applaud the approach to provide access to funding. In our world, we’re looking at the new grants set aside for ‘Transforming accountancy, insurance and legal services with AI’ and ‘open innovation’.
Plus there’s the R&D tax credit and Patent Box relief. These are absolute gift horses from the Government, and I can see exactly how they will stimulate innovative thinking and behaviour.
However, despite my excitement to use these, they are woefully under-utilised. It seems there’s scepticsm among my peers, and much of that has been born out of the attitudes of banks.
I get it. Because frankly I don’t think the banks got the memo about the needs of new economy and how they can play a role. And I include in this the Government’s own poster boy The British Business Bank.
If you want to borrow cash to start a tech business, your bank will laugh you out of the door. At best it will hit you with interest rates Wonga would be ashamed of, along with huge personal guarantees, which, if you fail, mean that the bank have the right to take your family home, and more. No one in their right mind would risk that.
Interestingly though, if you want cash to start a manufacturing business, then there’s no problem. If you're buying physical machinery you're quids in.
That’s because you'll have something tangible, which banks love. Welcome to the world of low interest rates, negotiable personal guarantees, and the red carpet treatment. All thanks to a strong balance sheet, which in itself is a relic of a bygone economy.
I find it galling. We’ve built a really strong business. We perform financially and can claim our place in the top 4% of accountants by revenue. Yet banks simply don’t take us, nor the professional services industry, seriously – until we put the keys to our family homes on the table.
It is unfathomable when you look at the numbers. The last stats I saw showed that financial and professional services workers contribute 1.5 times more to the economy than any other worker, creating £176bn for the economy. In all professional services – everything from law firms to IT consultancy – account for 80% of the economy.
Why on earth then would loans to our industry not be sensible and the key to unlocking economic prospects post Brexit?
The banks see service companies as a risk. They can't pop into your office and see your IP hard at work, like they can a robotic spot welder. Our IP is priceless to us and our customers, and we calculate the growth and potential of further investment very carefully.
Let’s face it, at the end of the day, no business sets out to fail. We really do have too much to lose. So I wish banks would stop seeing the service industry as a first class ticket to financial loss. It’s not. All the metrics that tell you whether the business is well run are just as they are in manufacturing if not better. The risk can be calculated. We’re good for the money.
It’s about time the banks woke up to this and I hope that the first to do it will be the British Business Bank.
It has the opportunity to pioneer change and lead by example, instead of simply being a backstop of last resort for high street banks who peddle products built on bygones.
No one wants to see doomsday predications play out but I fear with Airbus’ threats and little investment in service we will find ourselves stuck between a rock and hard place, deal or no deal.