Thursday, September 15, 2005

Doing business South West style

It is a well-known fact that Gibraltarians vote in European elections as part of the southwest region of the UK, but a meeting held in Gibraltar this week shows the links go far deeper than mere politics.

Members of the board of the South West Policy Unit of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) visited the Rock to hold one of their twice-yearly meetings here and, in the process, gather some facts about their local affiliates.

As the foremost European lobbying group representing small businesses, the FSB carries significant clout with British MPs and, perhaps more importantly, MEPs.

Gibraltar, following the lead provided by the European Union voting link, now forms part of the southwest region of the FSB and is directly plugged into its decision-making process.

Marilou Guerrero, chairman of the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses (GFSB), sits on the board of the South West Policy Unit and this week gave her fellow board members a briefing on the issues currently of concern to the GFSB’s 500 or so local members.

“We wanted to understand some of the problems that she has over here,” said David Ramsden, chairman of the South West Policy Unit of the FSB.

“Are they the same as we face in the United Kingdom? And I think the answer is yes, they are very much the same.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Cornwall or Hampshire. Many of the problems faced by small businesses are very similar, if not identical, to the problems Marilou faces in Gibraltar.”

Among the common issues discussed were concerns about over-regulation, about too much red tape and about the degree of support that government provides for small businesses.

There were also some Gibraltar-specific matters raised at the meeting, including well-documented problems with telecommunications and restrictions on freight movements at the border with Spain.

Mrs Guerrero also briefed board members on the GFSB’s thoughts on the new tripartite forum between Gibraltar, the UK and Spain.

The FSB and its local branch, the GFSB, cannot provide magical overnight solutions to the problems faced by small businesses locally. But raising these issues within forums such as the South West Policy Unit can help to create greater awareness amongst decision-makers in both London and Brussels.

“It means that when we’re looking at issues that affect us – and most issues are the same, especially vis a vis Europe – then the Gibraltar issues can come hand in hand with the others,” Mrs Guerrero said.

It also means that Gibraltar can tap into the FSB’s vast wealth of experience and know-how at the highest levels of that organisation.

The South West Policy Unit is also considering including Gibraltar-based businesses in its “Barriers to Growth” survey, which is carried out nationally in the UK every two years.

The survey samples the opinions of small businesses on a wide range of topical issues and is recognised as the most informative and influential survey of its type on the small business community.

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