Chris Blackhurst: It's time we paid attention to Nev and his call centre, not the huge corporations

Midweek View: Small businesses account for half our national income and two-thirds of all employment

There is a moment at the beginning of The Call Centre (BBC 3) that always makes me pause. It's when the announcer intones that this particular call centre is the "third biggest in Swansea". For those unfamiliar with the programme, it's a real-life version of The Office.

The David Brent character is played by Nev. His call centre specialises in cold-calling the people of south Wales, suggesting ways they can cut the costs of their energy bills –hence the title of Nev's emporium: Save Britain Money. It's knockabout fare, mainly thanks to the irrepressible Nev, pictured. But it's no joke: his organisation employs 700 people and the premises are large, modern and smart. And, of course, there are two other, similar places in Swansea that are even bigger.

The city, once famed for its humming docks, metal-processing plants and nearby mines, has become, apparently, one giant call centre. It is also the home of the DVLA, which provides work for 6,000 people. Call centres and public offices – the Swansea picture is repeated all over Britain.

Finally, the Government appears to be waking up to what has been occurring across the nation these past decades, as manufacturing industry has disappeared, to be replaced by people like Nev and civil servants forced out of London. In his keynote speech, hailing the recovery of the economy this week, George Osborne spelt out the danger in this approach: "Growth had been too concentrated in one corner of the country [London] while many other parts of Britain fell behind and became increasingly dependent on unsustainable levels of public spending."

But saying it is one thing, changing is quite another. What's required is a wholesale rethink of attitude. There are signs that the Government may be getting it. I was with a senior minister the other evening and was struck by how quickly he corrected me when we got on to the subject of London being a separate economy.

There were, he pointed out, pockets around the country that could also be thought of in the same terms of growth. He mentioned Nissan in Sunderland, Jaguar in the West Midlands (this was the night before Jaguar announced the creation of a further 1,700 new jobs, so he must have had some inkling of what was coming). Nevertheless, there was a subtle shift in emphasis. It was wrong, even old-fashioned, he opined, to single out London as the only magnet for future prosperity.

In the absence, in a world of increasingly fierce global competition, of large-scale foreign investors – and Jaguar appears to be an exception rather than the rule – the push must be on exports. Here, talking to the minister, there were signs of change.

I've never understood, I said, why our Prime Minister heads off on trade missions in the company of the bosses of our biggest enterprises. On his last, much-heralded export drive in India earlier this year, David Cameron was accompanied by executives from Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, BP and the Premier League – all of which have established Indian networks and have offices there. Why they must be with the Prime Minister is hard to fathom. As to what was hoped to be gained from taking the Premier League on the plane, apart from adding a bit of glitter, heaven knows.

Just as our obsession with all-things London must end, so too must our devotion to major corporations if we really hope to produce the desired rebalancing. The giant firms can take care of themselves – they don't require hand-holding by the Government or UK Trade and Investment (the official body charged with winning inward investment and increasing exports).

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees account for half our national income and two-thirds of all employment. They generate 54 per cent of UK exports. Truly, they form the engine of our economy. Yet according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), only 49 per cent of SMEs taking part in a recent survey had heard of UKTI. And, said the FSB, only one in five respondents had used its services.

These are shocking statistics. The Government is aware, said the minister, that more attention must be lavished on the SMEs. Old habits die hard, however. Where was the Chancellor when he made his call for a shift away from London this week? At the One Commercial Street development, on the edge of the City of London.

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried