Small Firms: Red tape turns into green light for growth: The Government no longer requires statutory audits for the tiniest companies, yet statistics may be a management aid

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The Independent Online
MUCH has been made of the rules and regulations constraining small businesses. The Government's onslaught on 'red tape' has already led to the abolition of some burdens, such as the statutory audit requirement for the smallest firms.

But the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants believes that the information needed by lenders, tax authorities and government bodies can be put to use in the running of small businesses and in helping them to grow.

Its tool kit for smaller businesses, published last week and endorsed by the Department of Trade and Industry as part of its 'Managing in the 90s' programme, is designed to demonstrate to owner-managers just how this can be done.

The starting point is building up a picture of the business, its aims and prospects, through questions on marketing, training, quality and service, and other areas. Once the data has been collected the publication shows how it can be processed and used on a daily basis.

This approach is a deliberate attempt to customise the package, says Roger Gray, the institute's director of public affairs. 'We're trying to get small business managers to think for themselves about their business. It's impossible to construct a model to which everybody can relate.'

Nor is it an end in itself. Pointing out that it was being sold as the basis for improving financial management, Mr Gray added: 'We'd view it as successful if it's used constantly rather than stuck on a shelf.' His organisation also stresses that it is not a one-off project, but part of a series of initiatives aimed at improving the financial management of smaller organisations. Among the institute's other programmes are projects to encourage businesses to use skills of other business sectors and to use 'mentors', or successful individuals, who, often voluntarily, help small enterprises to start up.

The idea is that by increasing the amount of information, rather than raw data, that they have about their business, the proprietors can also have more constructive negotiations with banks and other advisers.

As an indication of what needs to be done, the institute quotes statistics from a 1993 survey showing that less than a quarter of small businesses plan for more than a year ahead, while only a tenth use the business plans that they often have to draw up for banks to monitor progress.

The deliberately accessible format was devised by a committee of academics and practitioners, chaired by Katherine Howard, a former finance director of Heathrow Airport, who now runs her own management consultancy. A large part of it is devoted to describing situations in words and charts and asking the reader to comment on how he or she would react if this applied to their business.

Ms Howard says the document (the institute does not think of it as a book) is of use to advisers and business people. With many companies now exempt from the statutory audit, many accountants (who have been hitherto been audit rather than management-oriented) will need help in giving wider advice - or themselves face going out of business.

'It's an attempt to bring in best practice from organisations we've been associated with, without bringing in all the controls that might bog down a small company,' she said.

Besides giving Making a Success of Your Business its backing, the DTI is making it available at Training and Enterprise Councils and the Links that are being set up as one-stop advice centres.

Businesses can also obtain it from CIMA Publishing Department, 63 Portland Place, London W1N 4AB; pounds 29.99 plus pounds 3 postage and package.