Last week we were invited to join a party from the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce in travelling to London for the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference.  It was a privilege to be part of the group and our thanks go to John Bridge, Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers for involving us.

The speaker line-up for the day was quite extraordinary, with Rt Hon William Hague MP and Rt Hon Ed MIlliband MP making personal appearances; the Prime Minister, not to be outshone, delivered a pre-recorded speech to the conference, in which he talked about the UK’s battle for its economic future and how the work of the BCC is “vital for winning that battle”. 

In his presentation, the Foreign Secretary talked eloquently of five areas of focus for the government in strengthening Britain: building stability; increasing UK competitiveness; boosting trade and investment; fighting for an open and fair global market; investing in international security.  His full speech can be found here.

Other speakers included Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Rt Hon Lord Heseltine CH, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP.

For us, the most memorable words of the day were delivered by John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce: “Hope is not a strategy”, he said.  “It is no use hoping for a Eurozone recovery any time soon, or a booming US economy in the immediate future.”

The underlying message of the conference was the need to ‘drive business confidence’, a strapline that our own Chambers in Cambridgeshire have adopted for the coming year.  John Longworth told the conference:  “Bold action must be taken now to boost confidence so that businesses can create wealth and prosperity….. Confidence is the key, confidence and an enterprise friendly environment.” 

Export was another strong theme of the conference.  William Hague illustrated the importance of the international marketplace for UK businesses with the examples of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which now account for 20 per cent of world economic output, double that of ten years ago.  The UK still lags “behind European competitors in the market share of exports to emerging markets,” he said.  “British SMEs are currently less likely to export than their European competitors.  Our ambition is to see as many as 100,000 more exporters by the year 2020.” There could certainly be no misunderstanding at the conference that the government is expecting and imploring UK SMEs to lead this international growth.

One of the most interesting discussions during the day was that between Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive, UK Corporate Banking Division, RBS Group, Samir Desai, CEO, Funding Circle and Lucy Armstrong, Chair, Capital for Enterprise.  A rather apologetic opening speech from Chris Sullivan set the scene from corporate banking and there followed a lively discussion about the growth of peer to peer lending platforms and the potential for new challenger banks to enter the market.  Regional banking featured as an important potential focus for the future.  For those of us old enough to remember how banking used to be, this news may herald a welcome return to something that delivers a little more control as well as flexibility, and the personal attention of old-fashioned bank managers who understand their customers businesses.  We can’t see any negatives in that.

The other highlight of the event was a lively delivery by the passionate Wayne Hemingway MBE, Founder, Red or Dead.  Wayne Hemingway stressed that creativity is the 2nd biggest driver of our economy and claimed that by losing control of our city centres the people have lost the ability to grow that creativity in the way that his own business started.  He went on to lambast multiple retailers for treating UK manufacturers as a soft touch and claimed that, in doing so, they were contributing to the UK slow economic recovery.

Echoing the sentiment of John Longworth’s words, he concluded that we “all need to recognise that we can do better” and that recognising the need for change is a vital first step.

We're recruiting