Monday 4 March 2024

Creating new business opportunities?


Entrepreneurialism is something which just about everybody is in favour of, but which is actually quite hard to define. In terms of new enterprises, some of the key elements include identifying a product or service which people want and finding a new way of fulfilling that want such that the product or service can be readily sourced and sold at a profit. And often, looking at the history of some of the most ‘successful’ entrepreneurs, it involves sailing close to the wind in legal terms or even slightly crossing the line. The more successful the business, the more likely it is that a blind eye will be turned, especially if exposing any transgressions might embarrass the relevant authorities.

If that’s a reasonable working definition, how do we respond to the news that the Home Office has been issuing thousands of care work visas to companies who provide no care and have no facilities to provide care anyway? Criminal conspiracy or daring (might one even use that term so beloved of the current government, ‘buccaneering’) entrepreneurialism? The companies appear to be properly incorporated, and the visas they obtain, once issued by the Home Office, entirely valid. And they have an obvious financial value when sold on to others. One thing that is entirely predictable is that, when any rules or regulations change, there will be those who will seek out any business opportunities which might be presented as a result. In this case, the government’s changes to visa rules have opened up an entire new industry – trade in legitimate, Home Office issued, visas.

It is by government decision that there are virtually no checks performed by Companies House on the incorporation of new companies. It might be a decision taken to avoid having to employ civil servants to perform checks, or it might be deliberate – the UK Government seems to be rather proud of how easy it is to set up a company in the UK. And it’s another government decision (again, probably taken to avoid employing civil servants to do the work) that the Home Office performs few checks on the legitimacy of applications for visas. And given the government’s announcement that the total number of civil servants will be arbitrarily reduced to the number who were employed prior to the pandemic, we can be certain that there will be plenty of other circumstances in which basic checks will not be performed.

Every such failure creates a loophole which someone, somewhere, will find and exploit in order to turn a profit. Whether we call that someone a dastardly criminal or a buccaneering entrepreneur is, ultimately, an open question: the difference between the two isn’t always as obvious as one might think or wish. Arbitrary reductions to the civil service will even make it easier for those working in the new market to avoid or evade tax. The failure to operate proper checks on the issue of visas might initially look like mere government incompetence. But when similar failures are repeated across a range of functions, it ends up looking more like deliberate policy. As we ‘know’, civil servants are a ‘burden’ who add no real value to anything, they just apply ‘red tape’ and ‘bureaucracy’ which stand in the way of enterprising individuals. Blaming those individuals might be easy, but they shouldn't be the only target.

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