How others see us
As a native, you might expect talk of red tape, high costs and taxes, a market saturated with competitors and a sluggish underlying rate of growth.
You may hear those complaints – but you’re much more likely to hear them from home-grown businesses. When we recently interviewed overseas companies which had opened offices in the UK, their comments were overwhelmingly positive.
For a start, government agencies set up to help foreign firms expand into the UK actually work. They put those companies in touch with the right people, help them find suitable office space and remove many of the obstacles to doing business on unfamiliar shores.
Second, if you think Britain’s business culture is stifled by red tape, it’s nothing to what companies in other European countries suffer. No-one likes form-filling and bureaucracy, but as Colleen Jolly, an American, says, ‘Government organisations are bureaucratic and complicated everywhere around the world’.
As for the market, it appears that UK consumers are sophisticated users of the internet and ready to try new things – more so than those in France or Spain, for instance. The country’s business services culture was also highly rated by a number of the directors we interviewed.
Of course, you could argue that when you speak to CEOs who have already chosen to make the move to the UK, you are more likely to hear good things. But research backs up the impression that actually, Britain is not such a bad place to do business.
Of 34 European cities surveyed in a recent business monitor, five were in the UK – a disproportionate number for a small island, you would have thought. Top of the entire list was London, beating Paris, Frankfurst, Barcelona and Brussels. The situation’s improving too – Birmingham had shot up the ranking by seven places, more than any other city.
Let’s not get carried away. The UK can’t offer the all-pervasive entrepreneurialism of China or India or the work ethic of Japan or the US. But when it comes to the business of doing business, it seems we’re still a nation of shopkeepers – and all the better for it.