Wapshott R & Mallett O (2022) Bolton 50 Years On: What We Can Learn from a Landmark Study of Small Businesses. Enterprise Research Centre. ERC Insight Paper. Coventry. https://www.enterpriseresearch.ac.uk/publications/bolton-50-years-on-what-we-can-learn-from-a-landmark-study-of-small-businesses/
The work conducted by the Bolton Committee of Inquiry on Small Firms and its subsequent report (1969-71) shaped and entrenched the idea and definition of small firms in political debate and academic research in the UK and beyond. Fifty years on, our analysis of the Committee’s extensive work identifies continuing relevance to debates on small firms and entrepreneurship today. In this paper we reflect on several key themes of interest, looking back at this Committee and its work.
We identify a persistent set of challenges: many of the problems identified by the Committee (such as management capacity and skills and access to finance) continue to be debated today.
We explore some of the alternative perspectives and solutions brought to bear on these challenges at a very different time and within a very different context (for example, greater reluctance towards providing government subsidy).
In support of their insights and recommendations, the Committee had collected a substantial amount of data through surveys, commissioned research projects and submissions from small business owners and other stakeholders. We suggest that these data sets remain a valuable resource.
How the Committee’s recommendations were developed, received and went on to influence policy provides valuable insights into enterprise policymaking processes (for example, how policy outcomes were shaped by wider institutional arrangements and the challenges of political voice for small firms).
Our analysis of the Bolton Committee in each of these respects raises a set of interesting questions about where this agenda is fifty years on, in terms of ongoing research and policy debates. We conclude that, in considering the role of government in relation to small firms and entrepreneurs, the Bolton Committee and its Report still have useful lessons for us today.