Open for business: Britain's enduring entrepreneurial spirit

Mark Holweger on how entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, despite what the gloomsters might tell you.

by Mark Holweger
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The latest Office of National Statistics labour market figures would appear to reveal a booming entrepreneurial spirit in Britain. There are now 4.2 million self-employed workers in the UK – the highest figure ever. Legal & General’s Job Security Index has also revealed that almost three in ten (28%) people would consider starting their own business if they were to lose their current job. 

Times and work life are changing and it’s encouraging to see the way that some people are grabbing the opportunities and adapting to the changes. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, lambasted Britain earlier this year for failing to maintain our once famed innovative spirit, so it is great to see such evidence to the contrary. 

There has certainly been a rise in the many start-ups, innovative ventures and more traditional forms of self-employment that Brits are undertaking. Silicon Roundabout, in North East of the City of London, has seen over 3,200 tech firms spring up since 2008 and has won international praise for spearheading the British technology drive. Companies that have now established bases in this area include the likes of Cisco, Intel and Vodafone, all on the back of the important initial efforts of the small scale creative enterprises and sole entrepreneurs.

In fact, as many as 32,000 of the jobs recently created in the UK, roughly a fifth of the 181,000 jobs created in the three months to May 2012 were as a result of people prepared to be self-employed. At the start of the year it was estimated that since 2008 the rise in self-employment in Britain had offset around 40% of employee job losses, a number that is likely to rise. 

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) has warned that it does not view the jump in self-employed as a resurgent enterprise culture, instead taking a more cautious view. Often, projects begun as personal and small-scale endeavours grow out of adverse economic conditions. Britain escaped the 1930s financial crisis thanks to a housing boom that allowed the construction sector to pave the road to recovery. We now face another housing shortage, at a time when jobs in construction are threatened. Maybe this time the saviour will be the businesses set-up by those self-employed entrepreneurs.

For most self-employed Brits, it is not about starting the next multi-billion pound transnational corporation, but rather providing for themselves and their family. The fact that, as Legal & General’s Job Security Index suggests, people are regaining confidence is really welcome news. This is not limited to self-employment. The research also found that three-quarters of British workers are confident that their job is secure. 

Of course, translating the personal confidence to market confidence and future economic growth doesn’t happen overnight but with workers feeling more confident, and looking for those different opportunities this resilient British spirit could be the catalyst for change and improved market prospects for us all. And Thursday’s GDP figures are a good place to start.

Mark Holweger is director for Legal & General’s general insurance business

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