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Director General’s Speech To Global Annual Conference 

Director General’s Speech To Global Annual Conference 

Director General’s Speech To Global Annual Conference 

Full transcript of BCC Director General, Shevaun Haviland’s, speech to the BCC’s Global Annual Conference 2024, Thursday 27 June: 

Good morning and welcome to our 2024 Global Annual Conference… 

I’m so delighted to have you here today – it’s going to be a great day.  

Our theme this year is the Future of the Economy. 

And how fitting that one week today the nation will be voting on the UK’s future for the next 5 years. 

Over the last year, the Westminster bubble has been full of speculation and chatter about when the general election will be called. Will it be May, will it be summer, or will it be the autumn? Will Rishi wait for 2025? The speculation has given Mystic Meg a run for her money. 

But that is what it was – speculation and noise. Drama and hype. And when the election was finally called, it took us all by surprise…and we thought the noise would end, but, of course, with any General Election, the noise just increased. 

But that’s Westminster, and I know when many of you wake up in the morning, that is not your experience, that is not your reality. 

Travelling across the UK, I hear your reality.  

Your reality is getting up every morning and thinking about what the day holds. Will the deliveries arrive on time? Am I going to make payroll at the end of the month? Should I put my prices up, what will my customers think?  

None of that noise is helping you employ more people or reward your existing staff.  

None of that noise is helping you with future investment opportunities or build a greener, more digitally advanced business. 

But that is why we are here today. 

To help you cut through the noise and create an environment that helps you build your business, every day. 

Because you, as business leaders, you don’t work on a 5-year parliamentary term. You want a long-term, sustainable economic growth plan – some call it an industrial strategy, call it what you like, but what we need is a plan for the next 10, 15, 20 years and beyond.  

We must create the opportunities now, not just for us today, but for future generations.  

Over the last few years businesses have battled through some of the most challenging circumstances from: 

  • Brexit, to a once in a lifetime pandemic;  
  • increased energy prices;  
  • stubbornly high inflation; 
  • and high interest rates discouraging businesses from investing.  

The economy has been choppy at best.  

But despite this, as I travel across the country, the businesses I meet tell me that they are optimistic, they remain positive. 

They have ambitious plans for the future of their firms. 

Earlier this year, I went to Wellingborough to meet Viskas, and their founder. He started 25 years ago and is now running state of the art warehouse facilities, helping small businesses manage their logistics. An entrepreneur building a series of successful businesses – resilient, agile, tech led.  

In April, I visited the Isle of Wight Chamber and the greenhouses of the Isle of Wight Tomato company. A global exporter of high-end British product, grown in a facility with an innovative circular energy source, using old tomato plants to power the heating of the new growth, on a massive scale. 

From warehouse to greenhouse, British business at its best.  

This can-do, solution orientated, entrepreneurial attitude of the people that power business – big and small – is one we must harness and turbo-charge.  

And to do that, government must work in partnership with business to create the right environment for economic growth. 

‘Economic growth’, words we have heard time and again in the last few weeks.  

Business leaders are voters too – and you are listening to their offer for you, your family and your future. But when you walk through the door of your business, you enter that door with another set of priorities. You want to know what is best for your business.  

You hear all the rhetoric, but the only factor that matters, is what government will do on ‘day one’ – after 6 weeks of electioneering, businesses will be looking at the next government and who will be true to their word.  

That starts next Friday.  

Last year in this very room, I announced the Future of the Economy programme.  

We set ourselves a target to publish 5 reports in the first half of this year, ready for an election, whenever it may come. 

And, so, the week after the PM made the call, we launched our Manifesto – a day one playbook for the next Government. 

Built by our Chamber Network; our newly formed Business Council; expert advisers; and drawing on extensive research from our Insights Unit, our Manifesto is a set of business-made policy recommendations to grow the economy. 

Our plan is to build an economy that has the green transition at its core, with a workforce fit for the future, living in thriving local places and powered by businesses that are globally facing and digitally enabled. 

We have set out five priorities to take forward on that first day.​     ​ 

  1. An Industrial Strategy with green innovation at its heart 

We have set the new government a clear action – to put green jobs and green business investment opportunities at the core of a much-needed Industrial Strategy. Our greatest responsibility to meet our net zero targets is our greatest opportunity. 

As one example, some of our Business Council members want to see the next government legislate for 10% of Sustainable Aviation Fuel to be made in the UK. The need for greener air is vital for our environment, and with that brings opportunity for investment and growth. And that’s the type of day one action we want to see. 

  1. A Better Plan for Skills  

Skills are a top concern for our members. It’s time for action to boost investment in skills. It’s not about cutting up existing plans, it’s about making sure the right initiatives are given time to work.  

The labour market is heading in the right direction, as we see the number of vacancies fall, but businesses are still telling us the skills they need aren’t there. We need to ‘Plan Better for Skills’ aligning our ambition and investment to prepare young people and job seekers for great jobs. 

This is what we have seen in the Local Skills Improvement Plans in England, of which 32 out of 38 are run by Chambers. These bring together local businesses, local authorities and local education providers to tackle skills shortages. This shouldn’t be a revelation to policy makers, it should be a given.  

But all skills plans take time, and we need policy stability to strengthen those partnerships for the long-term and plug our skills gaps for good. Keeping the plan is the type of action we want to see.  

  1. Business Rates Reform 

Businesses of all sizes across all sectors have been calling out for a fairer system. The next government can’t ignore the calls for change. We need to reform the system to be more responsive to economic conditions, and incentivise business growth. 

It’s time to put in place an action plan to develop a long-term business rates strategy that supports local growth in communities across the UK.  

The businesses of today are the building blocks for the high streets of tomorrow. A fairer and more equitable business rates system will ensure that the local economy of the future has strong foundations.   

  1. Improving EU relations to cut costs for business  

I’m not here to look backwards, I’m here to help build a better future for our business leaders and entrepreneurs. We must stop walking on eggshells and start saying it how it is. The current plan isn’t working for our members.  

The EU is the UK’s largest market, accounting for 42% of all our exports. Leaving the EU has made it more expensive and bureaucratic to sell our goods and services across the Channel. But better trading terms are possible if the UK government and the EU reach agreement in areas of mutual benefit for business on both sides. 

A better deal is best for everyone. 

  1. An AI Champion for Small and Medium sized enterprises  

Many small and medium sized businesses are short on resource or time, and feel vulnerable to the risk that new technology could bring to their environment. But the world is changing fast, and we can’t sit back and let our small business pioneers fall behind.  

A new government must provide the right support to businesses to ​​make the most of that huge opportunity, to improve productivity and efficiency, and no small business should feel left behind.  

An AI champion will ensure our SMEs are a fundamental part of the UK’s tech lead future economy.  

​​​We have laid out our plans and policies – the future of the economy. 

​​​This five-point plan for the next government was made by business. 

And so, after six weeks of political parties making the case, day one is about one thing: Action.  

The Chamber Network is ready to work with the new government to ensure their members have the right environment to grow. The Network is primed and ready to convene their members, provide evidence, and advise for the best possible outcome for growth.  

Our Chamber Network are here to help build and grow their local communities, by ensuring business is the beating heart for growth and stability – locally, nationally, and globally. 

Working alongside our extensive Chamber Network, this last year, our Business Council have proven to be a powerful and influential group.  

They have brought to the forefront issues that impact us today, such as ending tax-free shopping for UK visitors. The impact of this incentive goes way beyond luxury brands, it hits our local supply chains, our tourism and hospitality industries. We led a campaign with our Business Council member, ​​Heathrow, and the Federation for Small Businesses to call on government to introduce a new tax break for tourists. 

Similarly, our Business Council member, Aviva, raised concerns ​about​ the lack of resource​ ​in Local Planning Authorities – and our members agreed. We are now working with Aviva and the Royal Town Planning Institute to build a five-year business-led programme to raise £3m to pay for planning degrees, and the Treasury have agreed to commit additional funding to Local Authorities to hire those graduates for at least two years.  

This is business working in partnership with government to address the issues, and find solutions, led by the British Chamber of Commerce. 

I have been the Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce for just over three years. When I started this role, I had a vision.  

To continue driving this incredible organisation through its third century; 

By leveraging the power of our global network;  

Looking for new opportunities to work with business of all sizes;  

And ensuring our insights, policies and campaigns bring about change for good. 

In these last three challenging years for business and the economy, we relentlessly pushed government to keep business at the core of their growth plans.   

Supporting business during challenging times keeps the economy on track. Businesses don’t want handouts, they want government to create the right environment so they can thrive. 

We have made a real difference by getting government to agree to a number of things, including: 

  • Permanent full expensing to encourage businesses who can invest, to invest;  
  • LSIPs which bring together business, education providers and local government to plug the skills gap  
  • Ensuring there was an energy price cap for businesses during uncertain times  
  • And ring-fenced funding for planning graduates to work in Local Authorities and unblock the planning system. 

And all of this was achieved with the power of the Network.  

To ensure we make the UK the best place to start, grow and invest in a business.  

I’m proud to celebrate our achievements. But we must look ahead. 

Our mission is clear for the next five years.   

Whoever wins next week, businesses are ready to lean in and help a new government power the economy: not just a plan for next year but for the next 10, 20, 30 years and on. 

None of this is going to be easy – none of us can do it on our own. 

That means we need a real partnership, one that is for that long term. 

We are ready to work hand in hand with Government. 

A relationship that is open, transparent and positive. 

A trusted voice, the number one business partner for Government. 

We, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Chamber Network and our Business Council, have stepped up to the mark.   

We are fully set up with this extensive resource to build an impactful and powerful partnership:  

  • We have business-built ideas to power the economy; 
  • A network of organisations to convene and deliver;  
  • The capability of some of the world’s largest corporations; 
  • And the voice and profile of the British Chambers of Commerce.  

For the new government… we are ready: to build the Future of the Economy in Partnership with you, because we are Where Business Belongs.  

Thank you. 



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