A nation of shop keepers

Napoleon once described Britain as a nation of shopkeepers; it was a disparaging remark that was meant to show we were unfit for war against France. As history has shown us he was proved wrong, although Britain had half the population of France during the Napoleonic Wars our per capita income was higher, resulting in a greater tax base.

Over the last 18months we have witnessed a shift; we seem to be becoming more enterprising as a nation. Britain is starting to stir again; you are beginning to feel a real buzz in the air, a determination to make a difference, to make a change for the positive.

The recession saw a lot of people, both young and old reappraise and revaluate their working lives. The worry of redundancy, the lack of control, reduced remuneration all contributed to increased stress and pressure.

In November/ December 08, I remember attending a round table with about a dozen business people; it was at this event that I first felt that there was a real feeling amongst the attendees to proactively take control of their own working lives and to set up their own businesses. Of those 12 people, 4 now run their own businesses full time and a further 3 have gone part time at the original jobs to set up their own companies.

The IoD is one of the Founding partners of Enterprise UK, a body run to support and enhance enterprise and entrepreneurialism in the UK. During the last 12monhts, we have significantly increased our engagement with Enterprise UK, feeling that the IoD should and must sit at the heart of an enterprising Britain.

New start ups will be a vital part of our future economy, but they need to get over the first year or two, to establish themselves in the market place. They will need to develop new skills, they might need office space, they may want mentoring, they will need legal and tax advice. The IoD is rightly positioned to support all new start ups, and entrepreneurial is the 8th word in the Institutes philosophy!

So if we are a nation of shop keepers, is that such a bad thing? We thrive off trade, for centuries we have travelled all four corners of the world doing business. We are a nation that has a unique and highly diverse population, the largest number of community languages in Europe can be found in the United Kingdom and over 300 languages are spoken in London alone. We all bring different skills, experience and understanding, enabling us to have a unique outlook on and engagement with the world. Perhaps we can be the shop keepers, and global traders in high technology value added products that will change the world in which we live. But to get to that point, we all need to support each other, we need to give advice when it is needed, we need to embraced failure and most importantly we need to ensure that enterprise is open to all, regardless of age, sex, colour or creed.

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