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Grant Gordon: It’s time for family business to get political

The Small Business Act (SBA), which was adopted by the European Union in 2008, incorporates 10 principles, one of which states: "EU and Member States should create an environment within which entrepreneurs and family businesses can thrive". 

The inclusion of this statement in the SBA is a clear marker that the family business sector as a whole has been recognised at the highest political level. This achievement was in large part the result of lobbying by the European Group of Owner Managed and Family Enterprises (GEEF), supported by the European chapters of FBN-International.

However, such recognition is only a start; surveys at national level continuously remind us that family business owners believe that their sector lacks representation at political level. In a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers opinion poll, eight out of 10 British owners of private businesses called for an effective voice within government.

Considering that the family business sector in the UK is, according to research consultancy Capital Economics, the largest source of employment in the private sector, the time has come for family firms to step out from the shadows and be heard. Whilst government is seeking solutions to rebuild wealth that has been destroyed by the recession, we should examine each new policy to see how it will help ensure that family businesses can continue to grow and generate vital jobs and employment.

The responsibility for ensuring that tax and other policies support the family business sector rests on the shoulders of our elected officials. It is however the sector's own job to put forward its case; no one else will do it for us. Family business has often been shy about sharing successes, has lacked public visibility and has not forcefully backed up its case.

Benchmarking initiatives such as the FBN Monitor, which provides comparable data on family businesses, are good examples of the type of statistical evidence that highlights how the sector is contributing to foster growth and spread economic prosperity widely within our nations.

There is little doubt that the family business sector stands out and not just for the tens of millions of people whose livelihoods depend on their jobs with family firms. Family businesses are also defined by core values including entrepreneurship, stewardship and social responsibility. 

Entrepreneurship is a vital spark that ensures that the sector is a constant source of innovation and renewal. Stewardship is the responsible management of assets, often with a long-term perspective, so that when assets are handed on they have been strengthened. Last and not least, social responsibility means having regard for all stakeholders touched by the business, not just company employees but also local communities and the environment.

It was harder to argue in favour of such traditional values during the debt-fuelled boom years; now we are rediscovering how these basic pillars are the bedrock of family business success. Politicians are in listening mode, understanding more than ever that economic success must be broad based. 

Success will be measured by the rate at which the sector continues to grow and create employment and prosperity. We now need all EU parliaments to adopt a set of principles like the SBA, which puts the interests of the family business sector at the heart of economic policy.

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