Sugar beats the drum for business

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Take one Chancellor, add Amstrad tycoon and champion window cleaner and the result? The East End start of the You Can Do It Too tour. Nicolas Barnard reports.

Terry Burrows may not have Alan Sugar's wallet, his footie team or his Downing Street mates. But he does have his own squeegee, his own business and his own world record - which he's broken three times.

Amstrad and Spurs boss Sugar was not the only celebrity coming home for the grand opening of Hackney Community College's refurbished Brooke House campus in east London. Terry was there to shatter his own record for cleaning three 45inch-square windows in under 20 seconds.

And while Alan Sugar was accompanied by Chancellor Gordon Brown and a phalanx of photographers and PR people to start his inspirational UK tour - coming soon to a college near you - Burrows brought a man from the National Federation of Window Cleaners.

Sugar returned to the site of his old school on his Treasury-backed, Lloyds Bank-sponsored "You Can Do It Too" tour which aims to "burn the spirit of entrepreneurship" into the next generation of wheeler-dealers.

He spent five years as a student at Brooke House - from 1959 to 1964. His first summer report card read: "Alan can do far better than this. He has ability but seems afraid to use it." Terry's memories of the school are perhaps better. An old boy of a local comprehensive, he last came as a 14-year-old for a boxing match - which he won.

Hackney principal Chrissie Farley was delighted to have them both on board for a day which marked the latest stage in the transformation of a run-down college sprawled across 13 decaying sites into a state-of-the-art institution playing its part in the regeneration of one of Britain's most deprived areas.

The main Pounds 30 million Shoreditch campus opened last year. Brooke House, at the other end of the borough, offers a second base, for Hackney College's construction, civil engineering and community education courses.

Sugar is the ultimate local boy done good - and he delivered an impressively down-to-earth talk to his young audience - while Brown gave Hackney and its aims the ultimate establishment endorsement. But Burrows is a pretty good role model too, and maybe a more realistic one. No George Formby he: his firm employs 10 people.

As Sugar said after his talk: "The idea isn't to try to turn everybody in this school into an Alan Sugar or Richard Branson. That's impractical. I want to encourage them to build up small businesses."

The tycoon with an estimated fortune of Pounds 186 million was recruited to the Treasury business team shortly after Labour's election victory. His tour will take in 12 colleges in all - next stop Norwich on November 26 followed by Birmingham on December 11.

The Chancellor was the impromptu addition to last week's bill. He is understood to have asked to introduce the session just 24 hours before, a move presumably unconnected with his press drubbing that day over the single currency.

John Spence, MD of Lloyds' business banking, recounted the perhaps surprising statistics which explain the reasons for the tour: 70 per cent of the UK's 3.8 million businesses turn over less than Pounds 100,000 a year; most employ a handful of staff; more than half the non-government workforce work for small firms; 20 per cent of new businesses are set up by people under 30.

But Sugar was the star of the show. Looking vaguely embarrassed as Brown glad-handed students and grinned for pictures outside, he was sharp on stage and gave blunt advice to his audience.

Honesty and integrity, he said time and again, were the most important qualities a businessman could have. Keep the bank in the picture whether things are going well or not. Set your targets. Always take stock. Find a niche - Amstrad's breakthrough was record-player lids, "a high-margin product that nobody else had".

And get experience: "You may learn to lay a set of bricks here or do business studies but all that is really just a foundation. It's about 1 per cent of what you need to know outside. That's a fact. One day's experience is worth a year here."

It wasn't possible to see the expression on Ms Farley's face at this point. But the new campus's facilities won a glowing endorsement from the Amstrad tycoon - "exceptional," he said.

Back outside, Terry Burrows was setting a new record and drumming up interest in Hackney College's cleaning sciences courses - taught as an NVQ, City and Guilds or as a diploma with more emphasis on management skills.

Ms Farley was aware that the college has a major task to overcome the area's chronic deprivation - and the dismal reputation of its education service.

"There is a serious message under the fun, about encouraging people in an area with some of the highest unemployment in the country to believe they can achieve things too." She added: "It's important for us to work with employers. We've got a lot of small businesses - they need us and we need them."

She had her own statistics to add to Lloyds': one fifth of Hackney residents speak English as a second language; 100 tongues are spoken at the college; unemployment is 23 per cent - rising to 42 per cent for African-Caribbeans under 25; 77 per cent of Hackney workers are in low-grade employment; only 20 per cent of students are the traditional 16 to 19-year-olds.

But 13,000 people enrol at the college each year and up to 2,000 use Brooke House each day. A multi-media and performing arts centre comes next, followed by a Lottery-funded sports centre.

"There is tremendous potential here. And for many of them, self-employment is the only way forward."

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