A shout out to the legendary line from the BBC classic sitcomOnly Fools and Horses“, but with a slight twist.

No, not the one bought to you by Chubby Checker, although it is a cracking song!

What twist then?

Well, I’ve been doing website design for local businesses in Blackpool, Preston, Lancaster and surrounding areas for 1¾ years now and I’ve been encountering a worrying trend.

Many of my clients have been trading for a number of years and obviously when enquiring about a website, they want it to bring in more customers.

BUT… and this is the twist…

Not too many!

“Porquois?”, I hear the French readers ask

Why indeed? Exactly what I said the first time a self-employed businessman said what I thought equated to “I want to be comfortably off, but not rich”.

In fact, what they were actually saying was “earning more money just isn’t worth the hassle”. WTF?!?

What they were referring to was Britain’s over-bloated legislation, bureaucracy and health and safety culture, which cripples our business at all levels.

Y’see, gaining more work eventually means that you need help to fulfill the extra demand.

To employ or NOT to employ?

And that’s where it begins for most businesses. Introduce an employee and all of a sudden you’re faced with:

PAYE, health and safety training, fire safety training, risk assessments, audits, inspections, sick pay, maternity leave, paternity leave, added insurance, ad infinitum.

Suddenly the businessman is buried under a mountain of paperwork and bills that prevent them from doing the day job. i.e. the bit that actaul makes them money.

And after fighting their way through this minefield of bureaucracy, many are faced with the dawning realisation that despite having a much higher turnover, the add-on costs of having staff (combined with paying them of course!) means that they themselves aren’t actually any better off than before!

They’re effectively flogging themselves to death on the governement’s behalf to provide a livelihood for others.

Not so “Casual” labour…

The admin and cost involved also means that casual labour is becoming a thing of the past for all but big organisations.

This in itself is ridiculous as it is small businesses (particularly tradesmen) that are more likely to require it. Keeping regular staff might not make financial sense for a one-man band, but dipping into the labour market when you land a big job definitely makes sense.

And with millions on the dole, it makes sense for the country too.

Not to implicate anyone I’ve ever done work for, but the end result is often “cash in hand” work, where the governement receives no tax and ironically the individual does not benefit from the very health and safety which is supposedly so important.

And then we have…

Where there’s a blame there’s a claim!!

Come the revolution brother, these parasites should be the first ones against the wall.

Oops! Bit too harsh?

No-one is suggesting that people placed in genuinely dangerous situations which they’re not trained to handle shouldn’t be compensated, but common sense needs to apply.

Why should a chap who has manufactured wrought iron gates and railings for over 25 years without managing to seriously injure himself  pay out compensation to some pillock stupid enough to drill through their own hand or weld without provided goggles?

The answer is simple. He doesn’t, because he chooses not to employ anyone.

For him on his own, health and safety consists of one thing: good old fashioned “common sense”. Add an employee into the mix and the law starts to apply, along with the risk that that employee really shouldn’t be allowed to use scissors, let alone a blow torch.

Keeping it in the family

One option many businesses use to get round some of the risks and extra costs of  employees is to employ family members either to fill in when busy or as permanent staff.

A husband and wife team I worked with in Lancaster offering embroidered clothing were a perfect illustration of this, both working full time on the business regardless of current demand.

Even where they’re not an official partner or employee, many a husband or wife of a self-employed person find themselves dragged in every now and then to help with fill-in tasks, answering the phone and paperwork.

Avoiding the dreaded VAT threshold

The other huge hurdle that many small businesses don’t want to cross is the dreaded VAT threshold and all the extra administration and costs it brings, combined with the need to put your prices up and therefore risk losing some of your hard won existing customers.

Working with a plumber in Blackpool, he asks the obvious question. If I can come to your house and unblock your toilet for £50, why would you want to pay me £60?

What Hope For Britain?

Without getting overly political, but if that’s the understandable attitude of our small businesses, how are we to compete with the likes of Germany, Japan and America on the economic world stage.

Is it any wonder our unemployment is so high when businesses are so actively discouraged in so many ways from reducing it?

Surely it is in the country’s interests to stem this flow of legislation?

And having raised the issue and asked the questions, there I leave it. The myriad of factors to blame are far too many to be covered here and would require a much longer post. Perhaps my next one?

Is it all bad?

Well, obviously not. I have also dealt with many small businesses that employ staff and have worked through everything outlined above, but there is also a pattern to those businesses. See if you can spot it.

How easy is it to erect scaffolding on your own, fit double glazing or parcel up and post hundreds of thermometers a day for your on-line mail order company?

Answer? Nigh on impossible.

Thought you’d spot it.

In Conclusion…

Whilst I’m now nearing being well established and comfortably in work without needing to regularly check direct debits aren’t going to make me overdrawn, I’m still a long way off needing staff.

I’ll cross the bridge when I come to it, but I think the answer has already been made for me.

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