Dr Adam Marshall has been the British Chambers of Commerce Director General since 2016 and was previously Executive Director for Policy and External Affairs. Charged with representing the interests of thousands of companies, Adam works tirelessly at the highest levels of business, government and the media to tackle many of the key issues facing British firms today. Prior to joining the BCC, Adam helped launch the Centre for Cities build commercial links between industry and universities and worked in broadcast media. He holds a BA from Yale University and MPhil and PhD degrees from the University of Cambridge.
The British Chambers of Commerce sits at the heart of a unique network of businesses across the UK. There has always been more strength together than alone and this is the core of what the Chambers achieve. Across their network, they connect businesses locally, nationally and internationally, with decision makers and an array of further opportunities. The BCC has been recognised and authoritative voice sought by policymakers and parliamentarians for more than 150 years. There are 53 accredited Chambers around the UK, representing tens of thousands of businesses, employing some six million people around the country.
The UK has never seen a year like 2020 and this has presented vast challenges for UK business and of course, the Chambers that represent so many of them. Here we look at some of those challenges and how the BCC has approached them.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Marshall, BCC President Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith and Chamber CEOs from across the United Kingdom set five business tests that must be met to limit the impact of Coronavirus restrictions on businesses and jobs, and take a long-term approach to tackling the pandemic.
Chambers of Commerce challenge the Prime Minister to meet five business
tests for Covid restrictions
The letter comes following weeks of increasing, regionally-tiered restrictions, with more severe ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions under consideration, as the country battles a second wave of the pandemic. The BCC challenged the PM to meet five business tests for current and prospective Coronavirus restrictions:
1. Are the restrictions evidence-based and targeted effectively?
2. Are the restrictions clear and do businesses have time to prepare?
3. Is support for businesses commensurate with the impact on them?
4. Will the time that the restrictions are in place be used to significantly improve the Test, Trace and Isolate system?
5. Is there a clear process for increasing and decreasing restrictions?
The letter reads: “While the recent announcement of an enhanced Job Support Scheme will assist some firms, Chamber members tell us it will not be enough to stave off mass redundancies and business failures.There is also a clear warning that improving the government’s ailing test and trace system is the only way to get a grip on
the virus over the long term, and prevent economic paralysis. “The need for additional restrictions cannot be blamed on a lack of care by hardworking people in businesses across the country. Instead it represents a failure of the Test and Trace system, which must be urgently improved and expanded.
“These tests must be met – to avoid serious damage to business and consumer confidence, and potentially catastrophic economic consequences. We must preserve our economy in the immediacy, while also laying the foundations of future growth. Failure to do so will undermine any broader efforts to ‘level up’ left-behind parts of the UK. The Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon. The government must waste no more time in setting out a clear strategy to keep the economy functioning, while protecting public health over the long term.”
Brexit Trade Rules
Companies need to step up preparations so they are not ‘caught out’ by
new post-Brexit trade rules, the government has said. The BCC is fighting hard for its members but there is little time and quite an amount of missing information.
A public information campaign titled “Time is running out” will urge firms to focus on the January 1st deadline. However, it is not yet clear exactly what the trading relationship between the UK and the EU will be. Dr Marshall said it was no surprise companies were struggling to prepare. “Many firms will be tired of posturing, cliff edges and deadlines, while others are still grappling with fundamental challenges as a result of the pandemic. More businesses will undoubtedly step up preparations for change over the coming weeks, but many are still facing unanswered Brexit questions that have a big impact on their day-to-day operations.”
The UK will shortly be outside the EU single market and customs union. Due to this, firms will need to ensure they adhere to new customs procedures, visa, work permits, and immigration rules. “There’s still a lot to do,” Elizabeth de Jong, policy director of freight lobby group Logistics UK, told the BBC’s Today programme.
The UK’s 8,000 hauliers that trade with the EU will need their customers, numbering about 200,000 firms, to provide all the right information before their trucks can enter the EU.
“Whether there’s a deal or no deal, many of the things our industry need to do are the same, such as customs declarations and security checks. A concern is drivers not having all the right paperwork to cross the channel, leading to delays and queuing,” she added.
If Britain were to leave the EU at the end of the year without a specific agreement on its trading relationship, firms would be faced with new tariffs and quotas on top of the additional red tape, raising the costs of imports and exports.
“Make no mistake, there are changes coming and time is running out for businesses to act,” said Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove. “It is on all of us to put in the work now so that we can embrace the new opportunities available to an independent trading nation with control of its own borders, territorial waters and laws.” However, there are definite actions firms need to take now, including:
• Being ready for new customs procedures for imports and exports
• Checking if you need a visa or work permit for travel to the EU
• Preparation for the new immigration system
• Ensuring you can continue to use any personal data you receive from European countries
• Checking qualifications are still valid for those providing services to clients within the EU
Businesses are able to get a personalised summary of the actions they need to take at gov.uk/transition, the government said.
HM Revenue and Customs is writing to 200,000 firms which trade with the EU, to set out the new customs and tax rules coming into place and how to deal with them.
As part of the Race to Zero, the British Chambers of Commerce, in collaboration with energy company Drax Group, is calling on the government to use the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement to work in partnership with businesses to achieve the UK’s climate goals, as many firms continue to manage the impact of Coronavirus.
A recent BCC survey of 527 companies found:
• Unprecedented challenges this year (32%) have created barriers to climate progress for firms
• Slightly fewer businesses are measuring their carbon footprint or greenhouse emissions against targets than in February 2020
• Research by Drax found that 68% of business leaders claimed that lockdown restrictions have made them more environmentally conscious.
Financial barriers to progress
Many of the barriers to progress were financial. 28% of respondents cited a lack of government grants, and 26% highlighted the lack, and price, of low carbon alternatives as well as diminished company finances, made worse by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. 24% of respondents cited a lack of favourable tax rates, credits or allowances.
However, there is an appetite among business leaders to make their companies greener. Research carried out by energy company Drax, which surveyed 1,250 mainly SME business leaders, found that just over two-thirds of respondents (68%) claimed that lockdown restrictions have made them more environmentally conscious. Nearly three-fifths said the importance of sustainability and/or climate change has increased since the outbreak of Coronavirus.
Business targets and measures
15% of respondents are using reduction targets, slightly down from 21% in February. When asked which measures, if any, firms were planning to use to reduce their carbon footprint:
• 65% of respondents cited recycling
• 51% of respondents cited reducing paper consumption
• 48% of respondents cited the use of LED lights
• 42% of respondents cited a reduction in car journeys
• 40% of respondents cited reducing plastic consumption
Dr Marshall commented: “With many firms simply trying to stay afloat as they weather the Coronavirus storm and the end of the Brexit transition period, it’s no surprise that many firms simply haven’t had the bandwidth to engage on the drive to net zero. Our research reinforces the need for a sustained and visible partnership between government and business to achieve the UK’s climate goals – and a clearer action plan from the top.There are simple steps that businesses can take to reduce their impact on the environment that also make good business sense, but our research makes it clear that many SMEs need better information and support to help them invest in changes to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Dr Marshall and the BCC have a raft of other subjects they lobby for on behalf of their members and, with 2020 being the year it has been, it has never been so important to ‘belong’, to group together, to speak with one voice and enjoy strength in numbers.
There are Chambers across the country, staffed with experts in most fields ready to offer advice, support and a way forward, and never has this been more important than now. All Chambers offer networking opportunities, advice and assistance, guidance on rules and regulations along with a large group of members who are, or have been, going through what we are all going through.
Reflections from BCC Director General Adam Marshall
My first day as part of the Chamber of Commerce network was back in 2009 – meeting with business leaders from all three devolved nations in Cardiff Bay, at a time when the UK and the world were beginning a long and complex recovery from the global financial crisis.
Now, nearly 12 years later, I am preparing to leave the BCC next spring. Once again, our Chamber business communities are working to restart, rebuild and renew in the wake of another world-changing period.
It has been a huge privilege to be part of the unique and special Chamber family for more than a decade. Over the last five years, I have been lucky indeed to lead the work that we do together to effect change on behalf of British business communities.
Together, we’ve influenced and changed government policy. We’ve spoken up for our communities, articulating the real-world interests of firms in every region and nation of the UK. We’ve built a stronger global network for British business, with Chambers on the ground supporting two-way trade with 63 countries worldwide, and still growing. And as the end of the Brexit transition period approaches, we are getting ready to support traders and companies through a period of significant change.
Over the past nine months, the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the way Chambers work, just as it has so many other businesses around the world.
Yet, as we have faced the same economic uncertainty as companies of every size and sector, our network of accredited Chambers has also grown stronger.
We have seen our business communities come together in new and special ways. As geographic distance has become less of a barrier, levels of collaboration, the sharing of ideas, and joint working on shared challenges and opportunities has increased dramatically. The indispensable role played by Chambers, as cornerstones of local and regional business, has grown even more important. In every conversation, the importance of community, of belonging, and of coming together to support the places where we live and work has shone through.
Many in our communities are suffering, from businesses who have faced closure or a collapse in demand, through to individuals who have lost their livelihoods or experienced challenges to their physical or mental health. Chambers see and feel this acutely – and have been hugely influential in securing what support there is available for both businesses and their employees.
Yet through it all, the eternal optimist in me sees innovation and progress as well. We may yet be too close to that change to be able to see it and label it as such.
Yet it is undoubtedly happening. Companies, and the people that sit behind every firm and every brand, are rising to the occasion, supporting each other and their people. And they are coming together, through Chambers of Commerce, to find pragmatic solutions to the issues that we face, collectively, in business. As we work to restart, rebuild and renew, these civic business communities will lead the way. Long may that continue.
BCC Director General