Productivity is vital not just in driving the growth agenda, but increasing social prosperity and improving living standards, too. Yet our current productivity trajectory is flat. The global crisis and recession that followed has left a severe impression on the business world and the turbulence following Britain’s vote to leave the EU risks more economic uncertainty in the months and years ahead. If productivity growth was important before 23 June, it is even more so now.
Although our lacklustre productivity performance has been much analysed and discussed we are a long way from it being resolved. That resolution will come mainly from business and it is time for concerted action. The routes to improvement are many and varied but they all depend on strong ambitious business leadership and enduring action on the ground.
In July 2015 a group including some of Britain’s most senior business leaders came together to explore what practically could be done: a move welcomed by the Chancellor of Exchequer and the Business Secretary. We have explored what potential there is in business-driven, “bottom-up” change and continuous improvement among individual businesses. Our analysis confirms that productivity should be better in businesses of all sizes and sectors. Unlocking the opportunity could be extremely valuable, perhaps adding as much as £130bn in GVA to the UK economy each year. The question is how?
Everything starts with engagement. For many people 'productivity' is a term used by economists. For others it has connotations of cost reduction or job losses. To engage people 'productivity' needs to be positive and aspirational. It has to be something that businesses care about. And for that reason we have chosen to pose a question: How Good is Your Business Really? While that might not be as pithy, it speaks to the entrepreneurial and competitive spirit of business people.
We want more businesses to ask and importantly to answer that question. To help, we have developed tools that enable businesses in different sectors to do that quickly. We have then worked with a number of business groups in sectors ranging from advanced manufacturing, retail, food and drink to the creative industries to develop practical ways of supporting businesses to improve their business practices. These include addressing themes such as management and leadership, innovation, digitisation, work organisation and measurement. We have had the advocacy of some of the UK’s most senior business leaders and we are confident the approach we have developed will make a difference. But equally delivering wider impact means we need to find ways to secure take up and leadership in other sectors and to scale up and extend our reach widely across the economy.
We therefore want to turn this into a movement involving thousands of businesses who want to address How good is your business? This movement will be ‘open source’ rather than prescriptive, but it must be about results. The first examples of activity that will make up the movement are underway. We now want to engage a broader group of businesses, trade associations, unions, universities and business groups in making productivity improvements.
If we are to learn from successes of other countries, the movement itself needs sustained business leadership. We have therefore called for a small high quality Productivity Council to ensure our initial work has a life beyond July. With such leadership we can close the gap on international competitors. But for the movement to build momentum quickly and grow fast, partnership is key. With Government support we can secure recognition as the UK’s answer to Industrie 4.0 and create the conditions for broader engagement. More generally, the response of wider partners to this work has already been encouraging including amongst businesses, industry associations, banks, universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships. We now need to link to businesses more widely through established networks, trade and professional bodies, and through supply chains. This work is the starting point for us to make progress on critical business issues. The invitation is now to join in, and working together to be a catalyst for more better run business across the UK.
Sir Charlie Mayfield
Chair of Productivity Leadership Group