Behind the Headlines – the challenges facing productivity in the UK

When we decided to look at the UK’s productivity crisis as the next topic for our Behind the Headlines series, little did we realise what a snowstorm we were heading in to.

As the Beast from the East battered our windows, we spent weeks looking at the arguments surrounding our current productivity woes. And, while the evidence and statistics made the arguments irrefutable, understanding the causes and solutions to our current problem provided more elusive.

We needed clear thought and sharp insight to help us understand what the problem is, and what the solutions might be.

Who would know more about a pending productivity panic than those running our business networks and commenting on the plight of business owners across the nation?

Step forward Tom Thackray, Director for Innovation and Digital Policy at the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), Craig Beaumont, Head of External Affairs at the Federation of Small Business (FSB), and Rebecca Burn-Callander, freelance journalist for the Daily Telegraph (and previously its Enterprise and Business Club Editor).

Over too much coffee and not enough biscuits, these three shared their insights into the current crisis: what it actually means, why it’s an important aspect to understand, what it means for wages and international competitiveness, and what the potential solutions might be to reignite our growth.

In typical British style, we compared our problems with other nations (why are Germany, Spain and France apparently faring so much better than us?) and looked at how even small changes to the ways businesses manage their workforce, support innovation and handle their finances could have a significant impact.

The skills gap is a clear problem. We discussed what the government should be doing to help drive growth, including infrastructure upgrades and innovation strategies. You’ll hear many frustrated exclamations at the cacophony of red tape and bureaucracy that still stifle growth, rather than supporting it.

What we didn’t discuss, much to my current dismay, was the concept of a “menopausal” economy.

Our recording session for the podcast was well over by the time the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Ben Broadbent, let his mouth speak before his brain had fully engaged. In his interview with the Daily Telegraph on 16 May, he informed us that Britain’s menopausal economy was so called because it’s “past its peak, and no longer potent”.

Somewhat suitably, his words were met by a storm of a different kind, but his apology went some way to placating those whose brains exploded at the very notion of someone so senior, so educated, and yet so ignorant.

At worst, Broadbent proved how easy it is to misspeak (best get a refresher on your media training there, Ben). But, at best, he threw the concept of economic productivity off the finance pages and into the mainstream new media—exactly where it needs to be discussed if we’re to solve our stagnating growth.

We need our smart brains to create the changes our commentators are begging for, from manufacturing to the service industry and everything in between.

The great news is there’s much hope and belief that small changes – be it to the tax regime, to payment terms for small business, or to the education structure and its widening skills gap – can combine to create a real and immediate impact on our growth.

Here’s hoping.

If you’re interested in appearing on one of our special edition podcasts, or would like to find out more about what Eulogy is doing to help companies manage their reputation in this area, please contact us at [email protected]