Enterprise Is the Answer to the New Atlantic Alliance of the Angry

24/05/2016 11:38 | Updated 24 May 2016

What Winston Churchill called the 'English-speaking world' is on the brink of some spectacular choices. And the good voters of Britain and America are so united in an Atlantic alliance of the angry, they're considering self-harm - from electing Donald Trump to choosing Brexit.

Is it any wonder, citizens are cross? We're mired in the mud of what Larry Summers, the former US Treasury Secretary, calls 'secular stagnation'. Pessimism abounds. Robert Gordon has just ended his vast new study, 'The Rise and Fall of American Growth' with the heart-warming message that our best days are definitely behind us. Meanwhile, China has become the world's biggest science spender as it pushes through through a 'Red Tech revolution' - and is streaking ahead in the race to create the high tech, high paid jobs of the future.

Yet, history proves there are tried and tested answers. They're called entrepreneurs - and fresh evidence shows, we need an awful lot more of them.

New figures produced by the House of Commons library show that over one million people have left 'entrepreneurial activity' in Britain in the last three years. I think that's a problem for a country built by some of the greatest entrepreneurs on the planet.

In my new book, Dragons: Ten Entrepreneurs Who Built Britain, I set out just how some of the greatest innovators on earth helped build, over six hundred years, what is today the world's fifth biggest economy.

Here are the stories of buccaneers like Lord Robert Rich, who created the first colonies and companies in America; the tales of traders like Thomas 'Diamond' Pitt who built great empires amid the giant old economies of the East, or pioneers like Matthew Boulton who mastered the steam engines that revolutionized power for the factories and forges of the Industrial Revolution. I set out how radical capitalists like Nathan Rothschild helped build the world's greatest capital market in London, and how visionaries like George Cadbury and William Lever brought mass production to new consumer products from chocolate to soap, while tycoons like John Spedan Lewis created new giants of the great British high street.

In these astonishing stories, you see the best and worst of human endeavour; fortunes won and lost, lots of triumph, and plenty of disaster. But what emerges very clearly is the debt we owe, not simply to sovereigns, soldiers, scientists and statesman, but to the business pioneers who helped invent the modern world.

Today we need a huge dose of entrepreneurial genius to create new industries - in big data, cyber-security, genetic science, or the internet of things. Crucially, we need entrepreneurs to create new jobs. If every local authority in Britain raised its start-up rate of new businesses to the national average, Britain would boast 336,585 new businesses - employing over 840,000 people - more than the number of people on unemployment benefit.

Britain today has some some excellent foundations in place. We boast nearly two million more firms than at the turn of the century. Over 40% of Europe's 'unicorns' (new firms worth over $1billion) are UK based, and by the next election, there will be more self-employed people than public service workers.

But we need to be doing much, much better. Globally, we're only 48th out of 60 in the global enterprise league table - and of the top 300 companies created in the last thirty years, only a handful are British. The only two British websites in the global 100 were actually founded in America - and, and the total value of all European 'unicorns' at around £85 billion, is just half the value of Facebook.

That's why it was such a shame last week's Queen's Speech had nothing to say about enterprise. There was no new plan to spread enterprise education to our schools or colleges. Nothing to help unlock the sort of peer to peer lending that is common on the Continent. Nothing to boost government contracts with hi-tech, high growth firms. In fact, the value of government these contracts has actually fallen by 25% in the last year. And of course, nothing to reverse the giant falls in UK research and development funding. It was a massive missed opportunity.

I don't think there is anything wrong with Britain's economy that the best of Britain's entrepreneurs can't fix. They make history - by inventing the future. We need to help them - or risk falling further and further behind. And on either side of the Atlantic, bad economics will only bring a politics that's even worse.

Dragons: Ten Entrepreneurs Who Built Britain, by Liam Byrne is published by Head of Zeus and out 26 May

Liam Byrne is the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill