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What happened at our big v. small business debate?

As the temperature in the UK hit record highs this week, The Great Business Debate was also heating up. At a joint event yesterday (02.07.15) held in collaboration with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) our panel, live audience and contributors over social media debated Does big business benefit at the expense of small business?

Mike Cherry FSBKicking off the debate Mike Cherry (Policy Director, FSB) said there were many examples of where big and small businesses are working effectively together already, especially within their supply chains. He called on large companies to do more to help with capacity building in small companies – especially when it comes to management skills – and supporting them to export. He also drew attention to the need for further action on late payment, highlighting the significant cost that this inflicts on businesses every year.

Lesley FSBLesley Smith (Public Policy Director – UK & Ireland, Amazon) reminded everyone that no business starts big, and that Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos started his company in a garage. Now that Amazon is a large global business she drew attention to the fact that it supports millions of small companies to sell their products online. She also highlighted that on the high street big and small often co-exist very happily – in many cases the presence of a large company with a well-known brand drives footfall to smaller businesses. She did acknowledge, however, that when a company becomes very large face to face contact with smaller suppliers becomes harder.

Julianne FSBUp next was Julianne Ponan (CEO, Creative Nature) who shared her experience of working with large businesses as a start-up. She argued there were huge opportunities to be gained from working collaboratively, but that some large businesses she worked with have not always behaved as well as she would expect them to. Picking up on the theme of late payment she explained the damaging impact it can have on a business like her own where cash flow is so important, and also highlighted her experience of being squeezed on margins by large retailers.

JC FSBFinally, John Cridland (Director-General, CBI) challenged the idea that big and small business have wildly different interests, and rejected attempts to pit them against each other by politicians and commentators. He highlighted how interdependent companies of all sizes are – singling out medium sized companies as well as big and small businesses – and the critical importance of working together to deliver benefits for all. He said that there were some examples of poor business practice, however, that need to be challenged. In particular, like the other panellists, he addressed the issue of late payment, arguing that this issue needs to be addressed once and for all, and that it’s the right values in a business that matter.

Questions then came in thick and fast from the audience in a lively session chaired by talented broadcast journalist Maxine Mawhinney. Late payment was the dominant theme that came up in discussion, but the audience and panellists also spoke about how companies of all sizes are collaborating on skills, exports and access to finance.

You can follow how the debate unfolded on social media, join the conversation on twitter using #bizdebate and check out our podcast discussion with the panellists.

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