I am not sure what happens elsewhere, and I would actually welcome feedback and comments from other Associations, but I have always felt there is a better way for us to interact, at Association / MP level, with our local business and SME (small and medium enterprise) community.
Traditionally an MP has had a Business Group or similar. In my experience these normally consist of a small number of Conservative-inclined business people who donate not insignificant sums to be a member of the local Business Group (just as we might have a CF group for younger members of a Women's Group for women!) In exchange for their contribution they are invited to a number of dinners or lunches with business-inclined guest speakers. Bringing people together with a shared interest is a perfectly legitimate way to operate and raise funds - all parties do it.
My problem is that these groups are seldom inclusive. The entry price is often too high to the exclusion of many SMEs, and fewer people now want heavy five course dinners at the end of a busy and stressful business week.
I am therefore pleased that Tom Tugendhat in Tonbridge & Malling is approaching things differently. Rather than having a small group of pro-Tory business people, we are just about to write to over 1,000 businesses in the constituency, the vast majority of them being SMEs. Over recent weeks I have had a team of volunteers trawling through Yellow Pages, various business directories and even driving around small industrial estates and high streets gathering business names and addresses. The list contains small shops to farms, garages and workshops to factories and offices - and everything in between!
Everyone of these businesses will be invited to a complimentary business breakfast with Tom. We are hoping for in excess of 100 guests. Once they have met Tom and hopefully enjoyed a good breakfast, we will invite them to sign-up to his Business Forum, with a very modest entry price of perhaps £20 to cover our admin and postage costs; well within reach of even the smallest business if they wish to join. In exchange for the payment they will receive a twice-yearly newsletter from Tom plus invitation to regular low-cost business-friendly networking events, such as breakfasts or post-work drinks with relevant guest speakers.
We believe this new model will actually benefit the business community; bringing people together and providing our Conservative candidate with a vital insight into the needs of the local business community.
As always I will keep you informed.