Start-ups, success and safe hands

Team brainstorming in meeting test

20 April 2018

Brian Souter explains the importance of helping small businesses and looks back on his time in office.

When I was elected President of ICAS, I undertook to pursue the themes of enterprise, compassion and inspiration during my tenure. I am delighted that the ICAS initiatives on pensions deficits/accounting and auto-enrolment have been received so positively.

I have also spent time with many members discussing the importance of small businesses and what initiatives could be put in place by Government to encourage enterprise and make it easier for early stage businesses in particular.

Getting a business started is difficult;  it requires commitment, inspiration and capital. Obtaining capital is not easy

The UK has 5.7 million small businesses with 16 million employees, representing 60% of all private sector employment. Small businesses are a major driver of economic activity and start-ups are responsible for much breakthrough innovation, which is rarely generated by large companies. They are also often the lifeblood of local communities.

Getting a business started is difficult; it requires commitment, inspiration and capital. Obtaining capital is not easy; banks are not interested in funding early stage businesses unless they have assets or directors’ personal guarantees to lend against. And even those businesses that have innovative ideas need seed capital to get started and demonstrate that they are capable of implementing their plans, prior to raising venture capital.

Start-ups are often poorly capitalised and lack adequate funding. In starting up Stagecoach, my sister and I were grateful recipients of financial support from our family both in the UK and overseas. Seed capital required to get a business off the ground often comes from friends and relatives.

We should be doing more to encourage start-ups and, on page 46 of this issue, John Hamilton describes a proposed tax incentive designed to encourage more entrepreneurs and to kick-start small businesses.

Critically, the proposal is easy to understand and simple to implement, based on similar rules to those that govern the tax relief charities receive on donations. I call upon Government and all politicians to lend their support to this initiative.

On 27 April, my year as President will end. I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on my term in office.

I have to admit that I approached the role with trepidation. Despite my years of experience I have a “fear of failure” and didn’t feel up to the job in many respects. I have never been described as a conventional accountant and my dress code is unorthodox at best! My fears were groundless because of the amazing support I have received from everyone and I particularly want to mention my successor, Sandy Manson, who has done so much heavy lifting behind the scenes.

I have enjoyed meeting so many interesting ICAS members throughout my year. I was inspired by the numerous ambitious and dynamic young CAs and encouraged by those who run small practices and help entrepreneurs implement their business ideas, often mentoring managers. They provide an indispensable service to our local communities.

I was also impressed by the many senior ICAS members who head large corporations and accounting firms. I was humbled and privileged to meet many Gold Club members who have been part of ICAS for more than 50 years and have given a lifetime of service.

We are a unique organisation and I have learned to appreciate our Institute more over these last few years. I thank you all for this experience.

As I said in the May issue of the magazine following my election: “Like every President before me, my aim is simple; to leave your Institute in even better shape than it is in today.” It is not for me to judge whether or not I have achieved this aim and, as I write this column, there are still several weeks to go, but I hope that I have succeeded.

Finally, it has been great fun to work with Anton Colella and, on behalf of you all, I’d like to offer him our best wishes for the future as he steps down. I have also enjoyed working with Bruce Cartwright, your new CEO, and I believe the future of ICAS is in safe hands.

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