150 years of helping business - Business Works

150 years of helping business

Neville Rayner, President BCC

T he British Chambers of Commerce, one of the country’s leading business groups, celebrates its 150 anniversary this year. Neville Reyner, President of BCC, explains how Chambers will be at the forefront as we emerge from the recession.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) was established in 1860. The organisation now sits at the heart of a national network of accredited Chambers of Commerce, serving over 100,000 businesses across the UK, who employ over five million people.

Over the last 150 years, Chambers of Commerce have helped hundreds of thousands of companies grow, generate wealth, and create jobs in their local communities. Chambers are uniquely placed to help businesses of all sizes - from a one person start-up to a multi-national industry leader - and this role is even more important as the UK economy moves from deep recession to recovery. Chambers will be at the heart of this drive, ensuring that we help create the best possible environment for British business in the future.

What makes Chambers so special?

There are a number of business organisations in the UK, but none provides the geographical spread and local connectivity like Chambers of Commerce. Accredited Chambers exist to make a difference to a business, whether that means ensuring the challenges it faces are recognised within Whitehall and Westminster, opening new business opportunitiesin local, national and international markets, or simply providing critical business advice, services and skills development. Whether a business is looking for international growth or simply to sustain an operation that provides flexibility over a lifestyle, membership of a local Accredited Chamber of Commerce will support any company’s ambitions. Perhaps a question firms should be asking themselves is: Can you afford not to be a member of your local Chamber?

What will Chambers be doing to ensure they are at the heart of driving recovery?

With a coalition Government taking office during a period of continued economic uncertainty, the role of Chambers is more relevant than ever. When businesses seek out help and advice, time and again they go to their local Chamber – and will continue to do so in the years to come.

BCC’s DG signing Skills Pledge with John Denham MP
BCC’s Director General signing a Skills Pledge
with former Government minister, John Denham MP

Despite a change of Government, British business’s priorities have not changed. Companies I speak to still say that cutting Britain’s huge budget deficit is the top priority; that a greater focus on exports is vital; and that we must tackle the legacy of recession by creating new jobs for a fast-changing world. In a strange way, the recession has allowed Britain’s businesses and politicians to hit the reset button. We have an opportunity to take stock, look at what has happened in recent years, and ask whether decisions that were taken did everything possible to improve Britain’s business environment.

Did we have too much regulation? Did we have the right balance between the private and public sectors; and between financial services and manufacturing? What can we do to ensure that businesses of every size can increase their turnover, generate tax revenues and create new jobs?

These are questions that the BCC works day after day to answer. We do this in close consultation with members and we go on to ensure their views are heard at the highest authorities in the land – and in Town Halls where the decisions are local.

Getting the business environment right will be a real challenge for both government and business, who will need to work ever more closely together to cement recovery and drive a new era of dynamic growth.

Before the election, the BCC called for the next government to put business at the forefront of its thinking. We published a 90-day plan for business growth – a prescription to return our economy onto a sound and sustainable footing. And we argued that failure to implement its proposals would mean a slower recovery.

Business growth

Our plan included helping to mend the public finances by reforming public sector pensions; maintaining investment in productivity-boosting infrastructure; a three-year moratorium on costly new employment laws; and boosting UK exports with a far stronger focus on international trade at the heart of government.

Now that we are over three months into the new government’s tenure, we have a chance to check their progress in delivering on the points in our growth plan.

On dealing with the public finances, we supported the early announcement of around £6.2 billion in spending cuts this year. Yes, the economy is fragile and to cut too much too soon would risk recovery. But, by offering some cuts this year, the government proved it was serious about dealing with our debts and that helps secure our credit rating. It also enables interest rates to stay low for longer – one of the conditions businesses need to invest and export.

The Emergency Budget in June also offered some encouragement on infrastructure spending. Chambers have vocally supported continued investment in infrastructure as it underpins productivity and growth. We were pleased that the government decided not to slash capital spending further than the previous government’s existing plans. And, we will continue to push for the completion of vital infrastructure upgrades to ensure business can get from A to B.

On reducing burdensome regulation, which has cost British business £88 billion since 1998, we have heard some welcome announcements. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has outlined an action plan to bring an end to the excessive regulation that is stifling business growth. And, the announcement of an immediate review of all red tape in the pipeline is a step in the right direction.

On rebalancing our economy, at this stage, there are both positive and negative assessments of the government’s work so far. Decisive moves to cut the deficit, which include a two-year freeze to public sector pay, will have positive effects on confidence and ensure that the wealth-creating private sector does not continue to bear the pain of economic adjustment alone. However, we have not yet heard nearly enough about rebalancing our economy towards exports from the Prime Minister on down. Chambers of Commerce firmly believe that our long-term recovery is going to be export-led. We are impatient for the announcement of a dedicated Minister for international trade - someone who has the stature and the time to truly dedicate themselves to this important issue. A Minister who is able to get out and around the globe, promoting Britain’s exporters and pushing more UK firms to consider overseas markets for their goods and services. (Editor: Although as this article went to print Stephen Green, Chairman of HSBC, had just been appointed Trade Minister.)

The UK has some great exporters. But we need more. This will be a huge challenge and we will judge the government on its success in delivering a better international trading position on a global scale. As BCC meets with more Ministers and policymakers in the coming weeks, we will continue to push them on our 90-day plan and we will challenge them with to adopt our solutions and policy proposals. What is essential is that everyone genuinely recognises that if the UK is to have a lasting recovery, we need to create the best possible business environment that will allow companies to thrive within communities across Britain.

Will the Chambers still be around in another 150 years?

Chambers have been in existence in the UK for more than 150 years, which is longer than most businesses – including surviving a number of recessions. The reason for this is because Chambers have developed, been flexible and have adapted to serve the needs of the business community locally, nationally and overseas. That will continue and I am very optimistic about the future for this fantastic organisation. Chambers will constantly refine and change to meet the needs of business, even during the most difficult times. But, at our core is the ambition to help British businesses grow.

Neville Reyner CBE DL
President of the British Chambers of Commerce

For further information about BCC and the Accredited Chamber Network, contact:
t: +44 (0)20 7654 5800
f: +44 (0)20 7654 5819
e: info@britishchambers.org.uk
w: www.britishchambers.org.uk

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