Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise

Project Items

REBEL - Situating small business regulation: A longitudinal study of how small firms receive, understand and respond to regulation

 Project Leader: Paul Richter 

Newcastle University, in collaboration with De Montfort University, has completed research (2009-2012) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).  This interdisciplinary research explored how small firms understand and respond over time to different forms of regulation in a range of industries and contrasting regional contexts.  The research is unique due to its attention to both the spatial and temporal everyday reality of small firms. The rich, qualitative data we have generated complements existing statistical-based 'snapshot' surveys of small firms.  This research will be of significance to a range of academic audiences and policy makers in regional and national government, small business support organisations, consultant/lobbying bodies, legal organisations and trade unions. The project findings continue to attract interest, particularly from policy makers such as the BRDO, HSE and the Environment Agency who are seeking to respond to the government's Red Tape Challenge by creating better regulation. 

The team are currently developing publications based on the research and new aspects of the regulatory context of small firms are being explored through doctoral work at Anglia Ruskin University.  Lewis Walsh has been examining ‘The 'other side' of regulation affecting SMEs: the role of regulators’, through a detailed investigation of the regulatory context and impact of the 2012 London Olympics.  Another doctoral project in collaboration with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute began in 2017. This project is investigating the impact of trading standards interventions on economic growth – particularly that of small firms.

Contact us

Professor Simon Down, Anglia Ruskin University simon.down@anglia.ac.uk Dr Paul Richter, Newcastle University Business School paul.richter@ncl.ac.uk 


The formal period of research and funding for the project ended in June 2012.  Two events then took place to disseminate project findings and begin impact dialogues with two stakeholders.

'Managing regulation: how to make regulation work for your business'  12 June 2012, Newcastle University Business School.

This event disseminated the project findings and showcased their relevance to small firms and professional who provide them regulatory services.

Regulation is a key concern to small businesses.  Some firms manage it well and prosper and other struggle to deal with the 'burden'.  This workshop highlighted those factors based on the findings or the research and aimed to gather further insights from attendees regarding their experience or regulation. 

In the first part of the event the project team asked attendees about their assumptions about regulation.  Attendees were asked to make comments about how regulation was a burden and how it was an opportunity. 

It was clear from this, and from the projects fieldwork, that business owners normally see the need for benefits of 'regulation', as well as recognising that it can be a burden on smaller firms.  By asking firms questions framed by the researches key findings it provided them a means by which to assess their relationship to regulation.

'Where Next for Small Business Regulation? Building Better Policy' (PPT: 1MB) 29 June 2012, BIS Conference Centre

At this event the research team presented policy-relevant findings to a wide range of stakeholders: regulators, policy-makers, sectoral/trade bodies, research centres, think tanks, lobbyists, professional bodies, small firm associations, and regulatory service companies.  The research team:

• explained how the key findings were relevant to different stakeholders• offered to produce customised, regulator-specific feedback for specific agencies (in this regard, the team are currently working with the Environment Agency, the Federation of Small Business, the Health and Safety Executive and the Security Industry Authority• provided examples of 'best practice', from firms and regulators

Project synopsis

Regulation shouldn't be seen as only a burden; it can be a core competency of a professionally managed business that adds real value" Prof Simon Down Prospering, internationally competitive small firms are crucial for the UK and its regions' economic and social wellbeing. Yet there are widespread and long-standing concerns about the appropriate level and forms of regulation. Much of the statistical-survey-based received wisdom suggests that the regulatory burden for small firms is too high. Yet, previous research has exposed some key gaps in contemporary understandings of how small firms internalise and respond to regulation.

These literatures make two key points. First, they point to the critical significance of the everyday spatial and market contexts in which small firms internalise regulatory initiatives. Context is crucial in understanding how firms understand and respond to regulation. Second, these literatures argue that firms' regulatory responses vary over time and there is an urgent need for qualitative, longitudinal analyses to understand the complexity and dynamism of firms' understandings of and responses to regulation, including unforeseen effects of regulation and sectoral, temporal and spatial variations in firm behaviour.

 Specific objectives were:• to explore the spatial dynamics of how small firms receive, understand and respond to regulatory change• to explore the temporal dynamics of how small firms receive, understand and respond to regulatory change• to critically assess the processes by which small firms receive, understand and respond to different forms of regulatory change

Research team

Professor Simon Down, Principle Investigator Simon Down is professor of management and director of the Institute of International Management Practice (formally a senior lecturer in management in Newcastle University Business School) and is a visiting fellow of the Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise (KITE).  His research interests include enterprise from organisational studies, employee relations and sociological perspectives.  His role on this project is to undertake the joint responsibility with Professor Pollard for the overall direction and completion of the project.

Professor Jane Pollard, Co-Investigator Jane Pollard is a professor of economic geography in the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) and School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University.  Her research interests include geographies of money and finance; regional economic development and economic geography as a sub-discipline.  Her role on this project is to undertake the joint responsibility with Prof Down for the overall direction and completion of the project.

Dr Paul Richter, Co-Investigator and Research Associate Dr Richter’s research interests centre on the relationship between organisational change, technology and identity and the function of languages and materiality in shaping those phenomena.  His role on this project is to manage fieldwork activities and data collection processes, conduct analysis of primary and secondary data, and disseminate research findings to academic, policy, and practitioner communities.  Paul also inputs into strategic decisions concerned with the overall direction of the project.

Professor Monder Ram, Co-Investigator Professor Ram is professor of small business at De Montfort University.  His role on this project is to advise and liaise with members of the research team over various activities arising throughout the research period.

Steering group


Down, S. (forthcoming) ‘Evaluating the impacts of government policy through the long view of life history’, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, accepted, in press.Pollard, JS (2007) Making money, (re) making firms: micro-business financial networks in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Environment and Planning A 39 378-397Down, S. (2006) Narratives of Enterprise: Crafting Entrepreneurial Self-identity in a Small Firm. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Reveley, J; Down, S; and Taylor, S (2004) .  International Small Business Journal 22(4): 349-367Pollard, JS (2003) Small firm finance and economic geography. Journal of Economic Geography 3: 429-452


Richter P, Down S, Pollard J. The emotionality of regulation: emerging thoughts. In: ESRC Seminar Series, Regulation of work and employment: Towards a multidisciplinary, multilevel framework. 2015, Newcastle, UK.

Down, S.  'Inspection Reform - The Change That Matters' Conference.  Business, Innovation and Skills.  November 2012

Down, S.  'SME Regulation: Building Better Policy'.  New Zealand Centre for SMEs Research.  September 2012.

Pollard, J., Down, S., and Richter, P. (2012) ‘Socio-economic contexts of SME's entrepreneurialism: the performativity of regulation’, paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the Association of American Geographers, New York, February. 

Pollard, J., Down, S., Richter, P.  and Walsh, S. (2011) ‘Regulating entrepreneurial behaviour: context, routines and managerial practices’, paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the Association of American Geographers, Seattle, April 12-16 2011.

Pollard, J., Down, S., Richter, P.  and Walsh, S. (2011) ‘Regulating entrepreneurialism: context, routines and managerial practices’ paper presented at the Regional Studies Association conference, Newcastle, April.