Reflections from BCC Director General Adam Marshall
My first day as part of the Chamber of Commerce network was a sunny day in July 2009, meeting with business leaders from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland at the St David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay.
At that time, the UK and the world were beginning a long and complex recovery from the global financial crisis.
Now, nearly twelve years later, my time at the British Chambers of Commerce has come to an end.
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 our 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 and business groups now supporting two-way trade with over 70 countries worldwide. And as we begin life outside of the EU, Chambers have risen to the huge challenge of supporting traders and companies through a period of significant change.
Our international trade teams, have delivered advice, training and brokerage to thousands of businesses as they adapt to new trading conditions – and we have continued to push both the UK Government and our European partners to solve the practical, real-world issues facing firms and to build a stable long-term relationship.
Over the past year, the Coronavirus pandemic has also 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 common challenges and opportunities has increased dramatically. The indispensable role played by Chambers, as cornerstones of local and regional business and global trade, 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 physical or mental health challenges. Chambers see and feel this acutely – and have been hugely influential in securing greater support for both businesses and their employees.
The recent UK Budget has reinforced the success of our approach, and shown how we as a Chamber Network can influence Government thinking so that as many businesses as possible can keep going until the economy fully reopens.
We have also seen significant movement on the training and skills challenges that the pandemic has only accentuated. Chambers across Britain are at the forefront of supporting young people into work, and there is great hope that a locally based approach to skills training with substantial Chamber involvement will finally emerge.
We are not out of the woods yet, and significant challenges remain.
Yet the eternal optimist in me sees innovation and progress as well, though we may still be too close to that change to be able to see it and label it as such.
But 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 I come to the end of my time with the BCC, I know these civic business communities will lead the way and will be heavily involved as we work to restart, rebuild and renew.
Long may that continue.