I was asked to take part in a debate about the future of business at the annual British Chambers of Commerce Conference at Central Hall Westminster last week and to give my view of what business needs to be looking at to get through the downturn and thrive.
There was so much I could say, but I decided to concentrate on the concept of business concentrating on the simple things and thinking about what makes people happy and what makes places liveable. We are in times where many are thinking of getting through tough economic situations and it surely makes sense to concentrate on the basics.
Here are my notes, I thought I would share them with you and I hope to return to them at some stage.
What are the major contributors to quality of life? Stimulating and rewarding employment, decent desirable affordable homes, access to leisure, decent education and ability to enjoy a stimulating social life and being able to feel that you are in touch with keep up an evolving world. Little has changed since time immemorial.
Humans have ideas and they like making these ideas come to life, they like selling them to other humans.
The UK is a country full of creative ideas, but the people who are full of these creative ideas need affordable opportunities to sell. Much of the affordable entry points that were around when I started out in the 80s have been bought by pension funds and many of these wont deal with start ups. A radical solution would be to force Pension Fund landlords to have a percentage compliment of start ups (without financial backing and guarantees) in their portfolios.
Where are the start up opportunities today? Where are the Kensington Markets of today? The internet doesn’t fully replace that – so much is learnt from seeing the whites of customer’s eyes. You can’t get that from the internet.
So much of the manufacturing that we could access back in the early 80s is no longer on our doorstep and manufacturing in China is too big a barrier for many start ups. We need to bring it home. Back when we started out, we could make all our footwear in the UK. Try doing that today. It would have been a step too far for us to manufacture in China.
Today with security of supply from China proving difficult as they cater for their growing middle classes isn’t it time that UK retailers really got behind UK manufacturers rather than hitting them with cut throat terms based on knowledge that manufacturing order books are down. Isn’t it about time that we stopped kicking ourselves in the shin in this respect?
Having said that, we come across UK manufacturers who cannot see opportunity and are afraid of innovation, here is where there is some education to do.
For most a happy life involves decent desirable affordable homes in accessible locations with access to leisure and social opportunities. We all know how far we have and are, falling behind on this, building around 100,000 homes a year when we need 300,000 at least, and often building unsuitable ones in crap locations.
Most importantly have we got leaders who keep up with a fast moving world and who drive for quality in ensuring the above is met and bench marked against rest of UK and the rest of the world? I am not just talking about the political leaders from Whitehall but the local councilors who represent local communities. My experience is of well meaning, decent folk who are either at or approaching retirement age. How can they hope to fully understand the way a 16 year old wants to enjoy their life? We desperately need to come up with a way whereby those in their 20s, 30s and 40s feel they want to and can participate in local politics at times when they are building their careers, paying their mortgage and bringing up a family.
Is regeneration money being spent sensibly? Should more be spent on encouraging creative sorts to move into an area? The history of regeneration money being foisted on areas that are suffering is not that rosy. Conversely the once downtrodden areas that are colonised by the creative community often become thriving, productive areas relatively. Don’t throw gentrification back at me. Look at the reality.