Michelle tells us that she was once in a Starbucks in Louisiana, where they try really hard to assist local folk with some of the more testing trials of life, when she spotted three mugs on the counter. One was large (and, this is America, it was HUGE), there was a smaller one in the middle and an even smaller version on the end (this one would have been our 'large'). The 'counter-assistant' was helping the customer in front of her to make a decision about the size of his beverage, pointing at the variations of mug size and explaining that all coffee came in options of 'large', 'medium' and 'small'.
"Which one is medium?" asked the customer.
We in the NTI newsroom don't know if the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) fully thought it through, nor whether the media this morning (Tuesday 6 April) are aware of the formal definition attached to a 'medium-sized business', but there are reports that such businesses are leading the nation out of lockdown. In 2015 the DBEIS formally defined a 'medium-sized business' as one that had no more than:
A balance sheet total of £18 million
A 'medium' business income of no more than £36 million
An average number of employees during a financial year, which is 250
The Oxford English Dictionary sees fit to wade in with a definition of a 'medium business', as being a company with no more than 500 employees. We are not sure the criteria that BDO used to populate their survey, but three quarters of them feel that this year is the time to invest. Twenty-six per cent plan to invest in new locations, or mergers and acquisitions. Eighty-six per cent are looking to recruit staff over the next six months, with fifty-four per cent planning permanent appointments.
These numbers are particularly interesting, as 'middle-sized, private equity-owned and Aim-listed companies' (not quite self-defining, but we are getting closer) account for less than one per cent of national businesses overall, but contribute £1.4 trillion in revenues and provide one in four jobs.
This could well stand us in good stead. Arrival, the British-based electric van and bus start-up, plans to use 'microfactories' one hundredth of the size of the vast 'giga-factories' in which Elon Musk's ego is (barely) contained, with just enough room to make Teslas around the periphary. We are told that there is a shift towards smaller-scale, decentralised manufacturing which will be more localised, rescuing us from massive imports that can get stuck across the width of the Suez Canal.
Could this be some more positive fallout from the pandemic? Small plants need less space and a more skilled and varied type of workforce. Two could set up either side of your house and go unnoticed for the first two years until lorries turn up to transport millions of nano-technology aircraft engines and wings to small assembly plants in refashioned Debenhams stores.
Apparently, when the French and Scots called us English 'a nation of shopkeepers', it was designed to be a slur about our lack of ambition and small-mindedness. Well, na na na na na na.