TWENTY odd years ago, I stepped into a print shop on Albert Square in Manchester. It was an industrious place – full of whirring machines and the smell of printing ink.
I knew then and there that I wanted to open my own printing business. But at 21 years of age, the bank manager wasn’t so sure. I was willing to work harder than I’d ever done in my life – but with no assets, I needed that first offer of help.
I was lucky. At the time, there was Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme. It gave small business startups like mine the opportunity to get ahead. I applied, got a loan from the government, and proudly opened the door of my new print shop.
Business was tough. We opened our doors at the start of a recession, and we suffered from a fair few sleepless nights, worrying about paying the bills. But the government had trusted in me, and we pulled through. Thanks to that first loan, the company is still going to this day, employing people and allowing them to provide for their families.
There’s nothing special or unusual about my story. Millions of people have been through it – and, with just a small offer of help from the government, have started up some of Britain’s most successful businesses.
So I’m delighted that this government is offering people that support once again, through the Start Up Loan scheme we’ve introduced. It provides people at those difficult early stages of business with the confidence they need to set up shop – and generate capital and jobs.
In fact, it’s already working, and is helping people up and down the country. Today, we’re awarding the 10,000th loan. It’s going to Allen Martin, who lives in Cornwall. Having served in the armed forces for 22 years, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s now set up his own property business with a Start Up Loan from the government – creating a new career for himself and supporting his family.
The scheme is helping other startups across the board. One business in Newcastle is using its loan to offer mail order activities for toddlers, delivering straight to busy parents every fortnight. Others are setting up furniture restoration companies, film studios and restaurant businesses.
The Start Up loan scheme is exactly what the government means when we talk about a hand up, rather than a hand out. It gives people that boost when they’re taking their first steps in business. It says that the government trusts you to do the right thing, and to help our economy.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Now, 99 per cent of British businesses are small or medium-sized, employing fewer than 250 people. Those companies account for almost half of all business activity in our economy – 46 per cent of turnover. So it’s vital that we’re supporting them through schemes like the Start Up Loan.
And the thought of it takes me right back to that print shop in Manchester, where my own small business story began.
Grant Shapps is chairman of the Conservative party, and MP for Welwyn Hatfield.