Pushing the productivity agenda

Mark O’Connell | 17 Sep 2018 | UK and Ireland Perspective

CBI Conference, Productivity agenda

The United Kingdom’s productivity rate remains one of the most sluggish amongst major western economies. While unemployment figures drop, we still maintain lower and slower outputs than our closest neighbours, showing clear signs of having not yet fully recovered from the financial recession of 2008.

This year’s CBI MSB: Business Insight Conference; ‘The Productivity Agenda’ was an excellent, open forum to discuss the reasons why, and how businesses can best plan to push for a more productive economy.

A common theme amongst speakers at the event was that while figures show we have high job creation in the UK, these roles are commonly unsecure contracts and low-skill, low pay roles, resulting in poor overall economic performance. There are many factors which need to come into play, in a holistic way, to make real change on how productive we are.

CBI’s research also found that Northern Ireland is particularly lagging, stating; ‘Northern Ireland’s productivity level is 15% behind the rest of the UK.’ One incentive that CBI volunteered is that if we could match the productivity levels of Germany we would all be able to knock off work at lunchtime on Thursday.

It is vital Government makes real investments in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in education, and the business community need to look ahead and provide their employees with clear employment opportunity paths. We also need to look beyond traditional solutions and prepare for advancements in technology as well as remaining mindful of the ongoing uncertainty of ever-changing global policy decisions.

The most looming of which is, of course, Brexit. During my session, I focused on the still limited number of UK SMEs exporting and how Brexit may well be an opportunity for many companies to expand into new markets. Figures from CBI reflect that ‘last year, only one in ten UK SMEs exported’. However, in keeping with the feedback from our upcoming UK SME Brexit Survey, companies are, while still maintaining close ties with Europe, now beginning to look beyond their habitual markets. Encouraging an increase in exporting may well be a contributing factor in helping close the UK productivity gap as analysis shows exporters are more resilient to change, more productive and consequently more competitive.

The event was a great opportunity to bring many of the key players in Northern Ireland business together in one room to share ideas, best practice and discuss our common concerns on how to best enable SMEs to reach their potential for productivity. I came away feeling optimistic that NI businesses will prevail despite the uncertainty.

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