Jayne Dowle: Hiring Sugar shows a real lack of enterprise

IT'S going to take more than an over-inflated multi-millionaire to turn today's young people into a generation of aspiring entrepreneurs.

Lord Sugar of television's The Apprentice is the Government's new enterprise tsar.
Lord Sugar of television's The Apprentice is the Government's new enterprise tsar.

The appointment of Lord Sugar as the Government’s enterprise tsar comes as something of a surprise.

If he had to apply for the job, I’m not sure he would get past the first interview.

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It tells us more about the star of television’s The Apprentice than it does about the real challenges facing teenagers who want to set up their own business.

If his track record is anything to go by, Lord Sugar can be irascible, arrogant and prone to insecurity.

More importantly, he has been here before and didn’t make much impact then. The founder of Amstrad computers-turned-television “personality” was appointed to this role for a short while under Gordon Brown’s tenure as Prime Minister, but he quit the Labour Party last year, complaining about “negative business policies” and “general anti-enterprise concepts”.

Even more importantly, Sugar is no fan of George Osborne. In 2012, he urged David Cameron, to “seriously think” about reshuffling the Chancellor from his post, giving his unasked-for opinion that he never rated him anyway.

Lord Sugar said this: “I don’t know what his qualifications are to be Chancellor, but we need someone in there who’s got a handle on the economics.” Who was he suggesting in Osborne’s place? Himself?

If I was Mr Osborne, I’d be seething now. That’s just one of the reasons why there is more to this appointment than meets the eye. Let’s leave aside the machinations of government though and concentrate on those who really need our attention – the young people whom Lord Sugar is purporting to help.

For a start, what makes him think he can do the job? There has to be more to it than shouting and banging the table. I hope the Skills Minister, Nicholas Boles, realises how daft he sounds when he says: “Lord Sugar has huge credibility among young people.”

Who are these young people he speaks of? I asked my own teenager, Jack, what he thought of Lord Sugar. “That old bloke off The Apprentice?” he replied.

Doesn’t anyone involved with this appointment realise that this is how most teenagers regard the 69-year-old? If we are to have an “enterprise tsar” at all, why not appoint someone in their 20s or, at a push, 30s, who can connect with young people on their level? Maybe a successful music mogul, an internet whizz kid, or a go-getter who has set up a successful business selling fashion or sportswear?

These are the things which press young people’s buttons, not a pensioner in a suit. Sending Lord Sugar into your typical comprehensive or secondary academy will just reinforce every stereotype about privilege and wealth that exists. In our region, it will also ram home the notion that the only way to make serious money is to move to London. Which is not what we want at all.

And, I’d argue that if we are to have a “tsar”, we need more than one. If the Government is taking this issue seriously, why not appoint a regional network of in-touch mentors instead of a divisive figurehead?

Since the demise of the Government-funded Business Link in 2011, which helped start-ups with practical advice, support and local knowledge, there has been no immediate go-to service for those wishing to become entrepreneurs.

Finding a business mentor, or even direction on the best business banking account, is difficult enough for adults, never mind young people.

A few years ago, I attempted to help a friend who is a dance teacher expand her establishment into new premises. We did the rounds of everywhere from the local council to the Chamber of Commerce, but there wasn’t a single organisation tailored to meet her need for advice on licences, finance and human resources. In the end, she just got on with it.

It might surprise the Government to learn that there are thousands of others just getting on with it despite the lack of support. I only have to look at my Facebook page to see the plethora of businesses testing the water without Lord Sugar’s help; artists, cake-bakers, furniture-makers and all the rest. And yes, some of these are run by teenagers.

Also, in announcing the appointment, Nicholas Boles confuses the terms “apprenticeships” and “enterprise”. Does he not realise that these are two very different things? Apprenticeships, by their nature, involve working for someone else, for minimum pay and a whole load of conditions. Enterprise means having the confidence to stand on your own two feet, the courage to go forward alone and a lot of sacrifice.

If Ministers can’t grasp the difference between this and clocking in and out every day, their efforts are skewed from the off. It makes the chasm between themselves and would-be voters even wider. It also betrays a serious lack of understanding from Westminster towards what the real world is actually like.

As if they weren’t out-of-touch already, they’ve now hired Lord Sugar. I wouldn’t have done so.