This time last week I was in London for the British Chambers of Commerce Annual conference. The event is recognised as being the foremost opportunity in Britain for P2B – ‘Politicians to Business’ and flicking through the agenda a few weeks before the event it was obvious why it is has picked up this reputation.
The line up of speakers was quite something with top level representatives from Government and The Opposition, various business and industry leaders, leading journalists and other groups. On the day itself the speakers put on a fine performance and with the exception of a couple of slightly off sessions they didn’t disappoint.
Perhaps the proximity of the venue to the Houses of Parliament meant that it was not really possible for the half a dozen or so Government Ministers present to turn down the invitation. However, the small matter of the General Election next year, the Scottish Independence referendum and the European Elections might have helped clear a bit of space in their diaries!
Either way from start to finish there was a list of speakers that many conference organisers would have happily had just one of on their speaker list. Ed Balls, Vince Cable, Michael Gove, Karen Brady, Theo Paphitis, Peter Mandelson, Stephanie Flanders & Ken Clarke along with many other big names from journalism, think tanks and business were all there.
The big theme that ran through the day was the economic recovery that has at long last taken hold. Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, John Longworth was the first to mention this in the opening address to the conference.
Mr. Longworth said that 2.5% annual net growth in the economy is expected over the next few years, a dramatic improvement on the past half a decade and more. Other speakers addressed the future and the battles business and government have been through since the beginning of the downturn, education, training, the important role of SMEs (small & medium enterprises) and the UK’s future within Europe.
At long last there is a more positive attitude towards the future whilst the gloominess that seems to have overshadowed the last few conferences was nowhere to be seen. However, if Britain is going to continue to work its way into full recovery then business and government need to cooperate and yes, the government could always do more (don’t worry, I wasn’t completely brainwashed!)
Although there remains all sorts of political and economic challenges that must still be faced, I lost count of the number of times when the economic ‘recovery’ was mentioned not as some abstract future concept as it was at last year’s conference but instead as a slowly solidifying fact of life in 2014. Perhaps the largest of these challenges is to ensure that we don’t allow the same situation to develop once again. Easier said than done I fear.
A day spent in London always leaves me feeling invigorated and more often than not, inspired too. Last Tuesday was no exception. I have been to many conferences over the past ten years in locations as varied as Lancaster, the Eden Project and of course Brighton but I can honestly say the BCC event was one of the best of the lot.
I therefore look forward to the year ahead and working more closely with the Somerset Chamber of Commerce whilst linking with the wider work of the British Chamber. Finally I’d like to take this opportunity to once again offer my thanks to the Somerset Chamber for inviting me along on to take part in what turned out to be an excellent day.