John McLaren-Stewart provides small broking firms with a voice in government through his position on the Small Business Council. He explains his role to Michael Faulkner

For those who feel that brokers have little opportunity for their opinions to be heard in the corridors of Whitehall, think again. Last month, John McLaren-Stewart chief executive of Bury St Edmunds broker Alliance was appointed to the Small Business Council (SBC).

The SBC is an advisory body that represents the views of small businesses to government. Its aim is to work within Whitehall to educate and influence ministers and senior policymakers about the concerns of small businesses, commenting on new proposals and current government actions.

The council also works to establish procedures that will ensure policymakers always consult small businesses when proposing a change that will affect businesses.

The council has 24 members who are owners and managers of small businesses representing different sectors from all parts of the UK. McLaren-Stewart is the insurance industry's representative, with a two-year tenure.

"It is an influential body, with access to Patricia Hewitt [Secretary of State for Trade and Industry] and Nigel Griffiths, the small business minister," says McLaren-Stewart. "It has the ear of government and recommends changes."

Dundee-born McLaren-Stewart, who also sits on the CBI small business council, is optimistic about his new role. "It's a chance for brokers to be heard in government," he says. "I want to see the insurance industry, especially brokers, having a say in [policy] matters. This affects everything, but I am not convinced the industry is always connecting."

He is critical of the industry's efforts to lobby the government, particularly the way it seems to lack a unified voice on matters. "The problem is that the insurance industry doesn't play the political game to get results; it doesn't wine and dine," he says.

The SBC has five sub-groups covering the environment, finance, government and small business, regulation and skills. McLaren-Stewart sits on the regulation interest group. "This will look at issues such as the administrative burden of regulation, health and safety and regulatory creep - where regulations are interpreted differently by people giving rise to increased implementation costs," he says.

Employment law issues are also an important part of the regulation sub-group.

So will McLaren-Stewart be able to fight brokers' corner when it comes to FSA regulation? "I can put forward views on its implementation," he says. "But it is well down the line now."

He is also keen to use the council to advocate the value of insurance brokers. "Customers don't always understand insurance. They think it is just about getting five brokers in to give a quote. I want brokers to be seen as really valuable and people knowing what we do is good and useful, that we have an important role to play."

Going forward, McLaren-Stewart wants to get as much feedback as possible from other brokers. "I will go to Biba and ask if I can attend meetings. I want to find out what people are saying; it will give me an opportunity to learn what members want.

"I am also keen for brokers to get in touch with me about any issues they feel should be raised," he concludes.
u John McLaren-Stewart can be contacted at:

John McLaren-Stewart, chief executive Alliance Insurance Management

Born: Dundee, Scotland

Age: 42

Martial Status: married with three children

Football teams: Chelsea & Dundee

Interests: business and current affairs, rugby, skiing, football, and armchair sailing

- Co-founded Alliance Insurance Management in 2000

- Worked for insurance firms including Layton Blackham, Christie Group and Aon

- Began career with SunAlliance as a motor clerk