Improving education is key to the future of British business, says Stephen Fear, entrepreneur in residence at the British Library, in the first of our pre-election blogs
As an international businessman and entrepreneur in residence at the British Library, I see many people right at the start of their business career. Many have just an idea or concept and don't know how they're going to fund their new enterprise, or indeed themselves, while they get it going.
Being an entrepreneur these days is seen as cool. This is probably due in some part to TV programmes such as Dragons’ Den and the Apprentice, but even TV chefs and footballers now want to be entrepreneurs.
In my opinion our country needs more entrepreneurs. The United Kingdom has punched above its weight for hundreds of years, mainly due to its predilection toward international business and trade. It was trade that created the wealth which in turn created the British Empire. It is interesting to note that the huge military power of Great Britain was developed primarily to protect trade routes, not to protect kings or queens. It was the taxes paid to the monarch by merchants wanting to sell their goods overseas which funded more warships.
When thinking of exporting, it is worth remembering that over 800 million people speak English as a foreign language. This gives British entrepreneurs an advantage when selling goods overseas, which is vital for such a small island nation.
I would like to see two things from our next government. Firstly, I favour the introduction of an enterprise module into schools for children aged 11 and upwards. This would focus on teaching the importance of business and why it is a force for good when properly exercised. It would teach that any business which behaves properly toward its employees and customers, is profitable, and pays its proper share of taxation, is by its very nature a social enterprise.
I had lunch with Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business minister, in the run up to the 2015 election and told him of my idea. I have also mentioned it to senior Tories, including Michael Gove when he was education minister.
The second thing I would like to see is the introduction of a political module for the same age group. It is essential that our future voters understand politics better than they currently do. Dropping the voting age to 16 must be accompanied by better political education for younger children. I was recently asked by an intelligent 18 year-old who had ten GCSEs why Miliband would get in if she voted UKIP? She thought UKIP and Labour must be friends. She didn't understand the first-past-the-post system. Do you?