Consultation Response submitted on behalf of Devon Chamber of Commerce in respect of the Productivity Strategy.

The Devon Chamber of Commerce is the accredited Chamber for the County of Devon and has 700 full members. It works in partnership with local Chambers in Ilfracombe, Barnstaple, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Torquay, Paignton, Brixham and Kingsbridge and Salcombe and the Plymouth Area Business Council. Membership is drawn from all sectors and sizes of companies. The Chamber therefore can present a wide range of views from across the county and the two unitary authorities. Some individual Chambers may have made their own submissions highlighting particular issues relevant in their areas.
The Chamber welcomes the production of the Productivity Strategy. The focus on productivity is essential if the economic potential of the area is to be maximised and there is to be growth in living standards. The Chamber would make the following general points in respect of the first draft.
1. Productivity cannot be forced by others either legislatively or through financial inducement. Individual businesses need to take responsibility for their own productivity improvement. There is a need therefore for inspiration and peer pressure. Information is key both to help leaders and managers know what is possible but also identify potential areas of help. This is vital for all companies in all sectors.
2. There is a need for many local companies to widen their horizons, within the county, nationally and internationally. Information flows are vital.
3. Scale matters. There is a need to promote growth, collaboration and joint working for each and every company. The culture to be created is to be outward looking and not inward looking or isolationist.
4. Encouraging a more joined up approach will promote efficiency. There is too much activity in the county that is not joined up with too many initiatives that are geographically or sectorally focused. A good example is the current local Growth Hub which is supposed to offer business support but is stuck in a time warp of only promoting limited public sector interventions. Too often geography is used as an excuse for separation and isolation which reduces markets, resources available and ambition. It also raises risk in terms of start up and market entry. Better connectivity between innovators, facilitators, finance, producers and marketers are essential to drive the economy forward.
5. Over the period of the plan communication channels are key. The county still has substantial barriers in respect of telephone and electronic communications. These technologies continue to progress and within the timeframe of the Plan nearly all companies will need to be ‘digital’ in nature. There is an immediate need for first class telecom and broadband coverage accessible to every business and for that to keep pace with technological development. The Chamber will be an active part in the national campaign in 2018 to eliminate telecom “not spots” which inhibit practical business and such a poor advertisement for the county. The current initiatives to roll out broadband and encourage its useage remain fundamental. It is also essential that key innovators have foresight and communicate influences and opportunities at all times.
6. Skills development is crucial if individual workers and whole workforces are to be made more productive. Raising ambition from cradle to grave is essential which means that high quality education and training provision for all age groups must be provided. There needs to be a focus on quality and relevance in helping people grow the economy.
7. For many companies the size of the market in Devon and even the wiser south west is small. Marketing to other regions and companies therefore requires intelligence and information as well as delivery capability. A focus on improving marketing techniques, showcasing and direct selling in the wider economy is essential
8. There is a need for greater focus on start up and new businesses to stimulate new thinking, challenge and new ways of working. Coordinating resource to enable this is essential, particularly access to finance, access to premises and opportunities to interact with peers,
9. Smartness is not being better than our neighbour it is in having the strategy to compete with our competitors in Germany, American and China.
10. Pride in our county and region will also encourage ambition and more need to be done to engender a common spirit and identity alongside a more sharply honed ‘can do attitude’.
These themes are intended to suggest drivers for how the region and the county might drive forward competiveness and productivity. Much is about organisational development, culture and ambition. The highest priorities for investment are skills provision and investment in telephone and electronic communication.
These comments are submitted to be constructive and the Chamber is anxious to work with all other parties to advance the economy particularly in Devon but also in the region as a whole. In doing this it recognises that businesses themselves have a key responsibility.

George Cowcher
Chief Executive
Devon Chamber of Commerce

(I would welcome any comments on this.  Vanessa)