Small firms leader quits CBI in anger

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A LEADING representative of small business at the Confederation of British Industry has resigned, claiming that employers' groups have failed the sector. Tim Brookes, who is also chairman and chief executive of In Shops, dismissed as ineffective many local chambers of commerce and such groups as the National Federation of the Self Employed.

'These organisations do not have any clout,' he said. 'I get the impression they do not enjoy a healthy respect from the people making legislation.'

His remarks will sting the groups he mentioned, but will find sympathy among small firms which feel their representatives failed them in not persuading the Government to act over excessive red tape or to offer help in the recession.

Mr Brookes was the only representative of a quoted company on the CBI's small firms council. He said he would now concentrate his efforts as a member of the Department of Trade and Industry's deregulation panel - adding that the DTI's plan for a network of one-stop-shop advice centres will be of greater help to small firms. Contracts to run the centres have gone out to tender, mainly by chambers and Training and Enterprise Councils.

'If chambers were generally held in high regard, the one- stop-shop scheme would go straight to them, without question,' Mr Brookes said.

About 94 per cent of UK companies employ fewer than 10 people, and the sector is acknowledged the fastest generator of jobs as an economy emerges from recession.

'But I do not think that there is an effective voice in the UK for these firms,' said Mr Brookes. He said the CBI was really a group better suited to large employers, and claimed other organisations carried no weight in high places.

A mountain of red tape was one of the most pressing problems facing small firms, and a deterrent to job creation, he said. 'Yet I recently went to a conference where, instead of tackling the issues, they argued with each other. They are vocal, but not constructive.'

The 58,000-member NFSE said in response that it had lobbied successfully at the highest levels. 'We have saved our members millions of pounds, and membership is growing by a thousand a week,' said Stephen Alambritis, its parliamentary officer.

A spokesman for the London Chamber of Commerce said: 'Mr Brookes is entitled to his opinion - but, fortunately, we have many members who think otherwise.'