BUSINESSES MUST 'WORK SMARTER' - MINISTER
The UK's flagging productivity rates have come under the spotlight at the International Business Festival, where Small Business Minister Andrew Griffiths challenged SMEs to "work smarter".
The issue book-ended the Festival's Sustainable Energy Day, with Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey criticising the government for failing to address a stagnant productivity rate that "hasn't been this bad since before the Napoleonic Wars".
Mr Griffiths had opened proceedings on the Festival’s third day by telling delegates the government’s productivity review would seek to address the fact that British workers are 20% less productive than their German counterparts.
And he told his audience on the Festival’s Knowledge Hub stage: “I talk to SMEs up and down the country and they tell me ‘we can’t be more productive, we’re so busy’.
“They are busy winning new orders, securing their clients, looking after their staff and growing their business. But we want small businesses to work smarter. If we can help them do that, we can unlock the productivity puzzle.”
Mr Griffiths said the business festival had a crucial role to play as the UK’s business community looked ahead to a post-Brexit future.
“The International Business Festival is a hugely important event,” he said. “Its relevance and importance if we are going to grow as we leave the EU and make our way in the world cannot be underestimated.”
Mr Griffiths was joined on stage by Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy director of science and innovation Craig Lucas as he took questions from the audience about the role devolution could play in the skills agenda, and how to ensure energy was affordable for SMEs.
Then he hit the Festival floor to view some of the businesses being showcased on the UK Innovation Hub, which is backed by the government and its export-focused GREAT campaign.
Grace Robinson, representing smart cities company BlockDox, said the minister had been interested to hear about the IoT technology it deploys to help companies make more efficient use of their space and save on heating and lighting bills.
“He was really interested and said he’d like to meet up with us to hear more about how using sensors could help buildings like the Houses of Parliament become more energy-efficient,” she said.
“It’s really great for us because it’s usually so hard to get access to such influential people.”
Ms Long-Bailey was speaking at the end of a day hosted by sustainability guru Mark Shayler, which featured expert speakers such as Jacqui Murray from the Faraday Challenge and Philippa Oldham from the Advanced Production Centre.
The Futures Stage audience was treated to an uplifting session about frozen food specialist Iceland's environmental pledges, and a rousing speech from Detroit-based sustainable food campaigner Devita Davison, before the Labour MP delivered her Future World of Work seminar.
The season - backed by Culture Liverpool - looks ahead to how humans and automation will co-exist in the workplace. And Ms Long-Bailey said: "We have seen think-tank pieces that 'robots are coming for our jobs'. But done properly [artificial intelligence and automation] will be beneficial to employers and employees.
"It can carry out jobs that are unsafe and difficult, improving the quality of life of the workforce."
Criticising the government's Industrial Strategy, she said it focused too much on "shiny new things" and falling into the habit of trying to pick winners.
"It talks very little about low-productivity sectors such as retail and care, which can be revolutionised by digital technology in a way that can improve workers' lives."
* The Productivity Puzzle - Futures Stage, June 20. Be The Business chief executive Tony Danker shares research on getting more out of your workforce - without cracking the whip.