The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

President's Blog: Neil Smith

Chamber President, Neil Smith, gives his views on what’s been happening in the Greater Manchester business community.

Momentum in the Manchester devolution agenda continued into the New Year with the Chamber hosting a visit to Manchester by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne. Held in the old Granada Studios building, with the site shortly to be renamed ‘the Factory’, the £80million home for theatre and performance and the new, permanent home of the hugely successful Manchester International Festival. The phrase “long-term economic plan” was restated, but it remains a concept with which no one can disagree. As a businessman I would argue that, yes, it needs to be long term, but it also should have sustainable competitive advantage as part of its mantra too.

The recent Chamber Assembly debated the impact of an elected mayor, as well as the delivery model of devolution. Currently the roles of all stakeholders in managing this are still unclear, but the model we will have to work with is now known. The Chamber has strong relationships with all parties and will continue to communicate with them and establish its position in supporting the process and, importantly, clarify not just how this will impact the business community in Greater Manchester, but also how its voice, needs and concerns can be clearly heard and truly influence this new development. This month, I was also invited to a session at the British Chambers of Commerce in London to further understand their strategy and to reinforce the link with their largest and most influential chamber – Greater Manchester. Our Chamber is very much leading in the way in strengthening the links between the Chamber network at the BCC: we’re currently hosting a number of BCC staff in our offices for short periods to increase the partnership and collaborative working between the two organisations, in the same way that our head of research is working closely with BCC and is leading the national network position on a number of subjects. The BCC has recently published its manifesto – “A Business Plan for Britain” – and this is the focus of their campaigning work in the run-up to, and beyond, the coming general election. Amongst the key areas of focus, two core campaigns were highlighted for 2015.

Firstly, internationalisation .There is a plan to further redevelop a worldwide model which will complement the current UKTI model of support. All of this is linked to a government target of £1 trillion of exports by 2020, a tough ask indeed, and one we have criticised for being unachievable: nothing is gained by setting policy on the back of big round numbers, much better to define a clear and tangible strategy. Worthy of note is that the UK is second in the world in exporting services, an area often ignored in our current export support initiatives. Many of those focus on manufacturing exports and on medium- and large-sized businesses, however far more needs to be done to engage with SMEs, and particularly the smaller ones. Greater Manchester Chamber is focusing on enhancing the model currently in place, and I’ll give an update on this key campaign and its delivery next month.

The second campaign is to further link and enhance the relationship between education and business. This is something the skills team within the Chamber has as a core priority, linked to the apprenticeships offering as a clear alternative to further education. Lots of energy is spent talking about apprenticeships and links with colleges and universities, but the BCC is rightly campaigning for greater engagement before this stage, strengthening the links between business and schools. The earlier we can engage, influence and guide our young people about the options available to them in the future world of work, the more successful both they and our companies will be.

On that note, the success of the Employer Ownership of Skills pilot led by the Chamber’s Employment and Skills team has been widely recognised and acknowledged by government – it has been the single most successful scheme in the whole of the UK. As this pilot comes to an end, it is critical that we continue to influence the future commissioning of employment and skills, so that further investment can be made into this model. It is only when a true intermediary like a Chamber of Commerce can be used that any successful penetration of the SME market will happen.

In many ways, the greatest event recently took place at the end of last year. Finally, in December, the Chamber relocated to Elliot House. It is a fantastic venue for staff and members alike, situated on Deansgate in the heart of the city. Such a relocation is no mean feat, but it was extremely well-executed and serves as a great venue to further the Chamber’s ambitions and its offering to members for the coming year ahead.

I look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible in our new location.

Neil

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