By Adrian Loveridge
Perhaps more than many, I can totally empathise with those individuals who have recently seen their businesses either fail or come dangerously close to insolvency. In 47 years, it has happened to me twice and in both cases they were largely external forces that caused near personal financial catastrophe.
Adrian Loveridge has spent 46 years in the tourism industry across 67 countries, as a travel agent, tour director, tour operator and for the last 24 years as a small hotel owner on Barbados. He served as a director of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, and as chairman of the Marketing Committee. He also served as a director of the Barbados Tourism Authority and is a frequent writer on tourism issues
Of course, it is easy to attribute the blame to others but, in my case, I can unequivocally state that both near failures, which occurred years apart, were largely caused by strike action in the United Kingdom, both involving the National Union of Seaman.
Personally witnessing busloads of what can only be described as pickaxe wielding thugs, destroying property and intimidating ordinary people simply wanting to go about everyday work and operating their businesses.
More than a decade later, it was the same union, blockading the English Channel ports, which prevented literally thousands of our booked holidaymakers taking their hard earned trips.
Unless you have been a small entrepreneur and fully understand the work, sacrifice and dedication it takes to grow and nurture a business from nothing, it might be difficult to comprehend the feeling of sheer devastation you experience, when all those efforts unfold and collapse in front of you.
When we moved to Barbados, some 25 years ago, and literally put our life savings into purchasing a derelict hotel, we were starting all over again. Not surprising, the local banks we approached were not overly helpful, regularly quoting those seemingly worldly phrases such as we were “undercapitalised” or “over trading”. Little did we know then, that these “pearls of wisdom” would come back and haunt the many supposedly “responsible” financial institutions, globally, just years later.
In those early days, understandably, very few suppliers were prepared to extend us credit, and we will be eternally grateful to the handful who took the risk.
In hindsight, the limited access to borrowing and credit was probably the best thing that happened to us. Growth of the business and enhancement of plant was restricted to positive cash flow, which left us entirely debt free.
Therefore, while I have absolute sympathy for those enterprises that have faced critical fiscal challenges recently, you are forced to ask if government is now operating a two-tier system of collecting taxes, when a relatively small company can amass outstanding debts of close to a reported $10 million, across four government agencies.
Something has to be fundamentally wrong.
Our own experiences substantiate this inequity, after finally receiving partial payment of outstanding VAT refunds overdue for as long as three years and seven months.
Clearly, any administration has to adopt a balancing act of trying to create a climate where enterprises are encouraged to grow and help soak up unemployment. But at the same time, they should not escape their fiscal responsibility by allowing selected corporate entities to avoid or even evade paying due taxes for long periods of time.
Ultimately, the businesses that are playing by the rules, despite all the adverse trading conditions, have to pick up any deficit.