Bernard Ginns: A voice of reason calling for burden on business to be eased

A BLAST of common sense came in from Harrogate this week in the form of an interview with entrepreneur Peter Wilkinson on the current conditions for enterprise in the UK.

He doesn't pull any punches. His comments form a frank and uncompromising analysis of the challenges faced by anyone who wants to set up a business in Britain today.

The interview illustrates the scale of the task faced by the coalition government in matching its pro-private sector rhetoric with real business-friendly policies.

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The coalition must also unwind some of the deeply unhelpful, some might say lunatic, legislation that reached the statute books during the Labour government.

His views shouldn't been seen in isolation. I could pick up the phone to any Yorkshire business leader today and find some sympathy with his opinion that entrepreneurialism is being badly hampered by a large amount of needless state interference.

On the plus side, Mr Wilkinson is determined to stay in Yorkshire. "I would not live down South if I could earn 10 times what I earn up here," he said. Mr Wilkinson then added: "I think I'm well known as a die-hard Yorkshireman."

Happiness in life consists of fulfilment of one's duties and not of desires.

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So said the mother of young Siegmund Warburg, who would grow up to become one of the main architects of the City of London as the world's leading financial centre.

Sir Siegmund, with his keen awareness of individual responsibility, was a world away from the bonus-fuelled modern investment banker, according to the financial historian Niall Ferguson.

Ahead of his talk at Ilkley Literature Festival on October 17, Prof Ferguson told me that while more regulation could encourage bankers to behave better, "the most important thing is to make business education more concerned with ethical questions and less exclusively focused on financial concerns".

This is a welcome contribution to the vital debate about the future of financial services in this country.

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In addition to the promotion of moral and ethic standards within the sector, Prof Ferguson also wants to see more competition in the form of newer, smaller banks.

Like him, I get the horrible feeling we are just storing up more crises for ourselves if we fail to get a handle on the banks that are too big to fail.

Is the Yorkshire deal market busy enough to sustain the many thousands of professionals who exist to service it?

January to May saw a lot of activity in the corporate market, but this has been followed by something of a hiatus, caused by the prevailing uncertainty surrounding government spending cuts.

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Chief executives are pursuing a wait-and-see policy and although they are fairly confident about the future, they want to hold off on any big decisions until they have a clearer picture of what's coming in this month's spending review.

This standstill is having an impact on the legions of professionals in places like Leeds and Sheffield, particularly on those employed by firms laden with lots of debt.

Word reaches me that a number of professional services firms that took on big debt during the good years are now struggling to service those borrowings.

Some law firms have debt equal to turnover. That's not a good place to be.

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Anxiety levels among the senior partners at those firms will have notched up a level after Halliwells, which had an office in Sheffield, filed for administration.

"The Halliwells thing was a turning point," intoned one seasoned observer. "They finally woke up and said 'law firms can go bust, accountancy firms can go bust so it's okay to treat them like any other business – if they can't service their debt, fine, we will put the administrators in'.

"There are lots of smiles around in the professional community but nothing's really changed. It is very quiet. There are few deals.

"Certainly not enough to sustain the number of professionals who are having to survive in that market."

Expect, then, to see some more consolidation.

Litigation, on the other hand, is soaring, with everyone suing everyone else because, in the words of our observer, "no one wants to pay for anything".