Some people have mid-life crises. We’ve all seen them happen, with the red sports car and the dodgy leather jacket. I, myself, on May 10 last year, had a career change and lifestyle makeover: I became an MP after 15 years of working in biotech venture capital.
What a different world. The general election was a bizarre and rapid transition: the 3am vote count, the press interviews and short bursts of sleep, a manic weekend of packing and planning to spend each week in London away from my family… everything changed. It was a sharp “goodbye starting up businesses” and and a quick “hello to being a public servant”.
Before becoming an MP, I counted myself lucky in having a fulfilling career in bioscience venture capital. Working in small teams with world class scientists and cutting edge technologies, investing in high risk startups, negotiating and trying to close deals; nothing could have been further from the life of a backbench MP.
But now I have a ringside seat on a very different public sector world and all the challenges of implementing change in a vast bureaucracy.
What lessons have I learnt? How can Britain grow?
1. Elect business-savvy MPs
We need MPs with experience of how real world business works. Given the extent of the crisis we face in the public finances and public services, and the urgent need for a rebalanced and private sector led recovery, we need politicians with experience of applying innovation in unlocking new markets.
2. The state needs to stand back
Government needs to rethink its role. It should be about interfering less and doing what only government can do, and doing it better. The 1980s are instructive in this sense. Have we forgotten about the successes of Heseltine and other businesslike ministers, the Enterprise Zones, the LDDC and Canary Wharf?
3. Cut taxes
And perhaps the most basic lesson of all: that reducing taxes actually increases revenues for everyone, including government.
4. Ensure we have a pro-enterprise government
We need government to be much more pro-enterprise, but also to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation within the public sector, in order to increase productivity.
5. Think like entrepreneurs
With the public purse going bust, we need to think much more like business people do. Yes, we need to shore up the P+L with spending cuts as best we can, but to tackle the cause of the crisis and unlock growth, we need to be more creative with the balance sheet and sweating UK plc assets in the fastest growing new markets.
6. Be international
It’s clear that the rapidly-developing nations of the world represent huge markets for us, and they can support a sustainable recovery. As the world population grows to nine billion, we can play a big part in providing the food science, biomedicine and green technologies these economies will need.
And why not allow our brightest public sector employees to go and win business overseas and raise private finance? Why don’t we let specialist public sector agencies like the examination boards, Care Quality Commission, or the Highways Agency and Network Rail go and win this business around the world? Their new revenues would help reduce government spending and drive growth.
7. Take risks
Above all, my business career taught me that successful businesses are built by people who take risks in pursuit of rewards.
In the UK, we have systematically increased the barriers to entrepreneurship and reduced the rewards. We need to re-focus on entrepreneurialism in Westminster on the people who make growth happen and make sure we are incentivising them.
The debt crisis is an opportunity for us to unlock a sustainable economic recovery based on a new model of supplying innovative technologies and services to the rapidly developing economies.
Let’s unlock the British buccaneering spirit and trade our way back to an economy we can all be proud of.
George Freeman was elected to parliament in 2010 after a 15-year career in biomedical venture capital. He is formerly director of early stage ventures at Merlin Biosciences, CEO of Cambridge startup Amedis Pharmaceuticals, and founder and chairman of specialist translational medicine consultancy 4D Biomedical.
He has spoken and written widely on the potential of UK science, technology and entrepreneurship to lead a sustainable economic recovery. In July 2011, he was appointed Adviser on Life Sciences to the Minister of State for Universities and Science, Rt Hon David Willetts MP.
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