The new Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, Shevaun Haviland, has set out the action needed to help firms and communities rebuild.
In her first speech to the BCC’s Global Annual Conference, she said that key steps were needed to boost UK trade, unlock the blockages in the skills training system and build a greener and more sustainable economy that achieves the aim of net zero by 2050.
Putting trade and export at the heart of her future vision for the country, she said:
“Imagine what a difference it would make to our economy if we could increase the number of businesses that export from 10 to 20 per cent? We know from our survey data that internationally active firms are more likely to be innovating and introducing new products, services, and processes than those not working globally.
“If we are going to truly succeed in our new trading conditions, the government and business must work together shoulder to shoulder. The Government must bring together all organisations working in this area, both public and private sector, behind a shared UK trade and investment strategy.”
Following Monday’s news of the delay on full reopening for England, Haviland also warned against government removing support for businesses too early and of the risks of an uneven recovery.
“Despite the challenges firms have faced – the rising burden of debt and depleted cashflow – there are signs that firms are beginning to feel more positive about the future,” she said.
“While it may be slow, they can see a route back to full operation, where they can start to invest and power the economic recovery.
“That’s why today I am setting out the BCC’s recommendations to rapidly Rebuild the economy, to not just take this country back to where we started, but to go beyond that to a better, greener, more productive future.
“We know the financial support put in place during the darkest hours of the pandemic cannot, and should not, last forever. But we must ensure this scaffolding is not taken away too early.
“With many firms struggling with the damage done to their cashflow and revenue by COVID, the risk of a marked rise in insolvencies and redundancies as government support winds down remains high.
“And the recovery will be dramatically uneven across different sectors, locations and demographics. So just as the Government supported firms to survive through the crisis, they must also act now to enable them to thrive in the recovery.”
Haviland also paid tribute to the role that accredited Chambers of Commerce have made to keeping businesses afloat throughout the pandemic.
“As Chambers of Commerce, our business is all about helping other businesses to succeed,” she added, “And this crisis has allowed our Chambers to do what they do best.
“Firstly, our 53 Chambers across the United Kingdom have incredible local knowledge and networks and they have provided unparalleled support to businesses in their places, to help carry them through the crisis.
“Secondly, by working together through the British Chambers of Commerce we have been able to help shape the policies that have kept us all in business.
“And lastly our growing network of 73 International Chambers around the world, puts us in a unique position of strength to grasp global opportunities as we open up again.”
The new Director General’s speech was a highlight of day two of the BCC’s Global Annual Conference, which also featured speeches from His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex and discussions with the Right Honourable Ed Miliband MP and Lisa Witter, Executive Chair of Apolitical.
Alongside Haviland’s speech, the BCC has also published its Rebuild report – which sets out the detail of what the organisation believes is needed for UK businesses and communities to prosper in 2021 and beyond.
A copy of the document can be found here.