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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links