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Be the Business welcomes chancellor’s focus on UK productivity

UK productivity
Strong management and leadership are being acknowledged as key drivers of UK productivity

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s package of measures to boost UK productivity, delivered in his speech at the 2018 Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, has been welcomed by Be the Business.

As part of his address, the chancellor also highlighted the importance of business-led approaches to improving firm-level productivity.

Chaired by Sir Charlie Mayfield, Be the Business is spearheading a business-led drive to help companies across the UK improve their performance.

The chancellor announced:

  • A commitment to creating a “Small Business Leadership Programme”, which will provide management training to 2,000 small business leaders in its first year
  • An investment to strengthen local business networks focussed on productivity improvement so that the country’s hundreds of thousands of business leaders can learn from each other about management excellence and new technologies
  • A new partnership between the government, professional services firms, large banks and technology firms, to reach out to employers across the country to support them to adopt new management practices and modern business tools

Be the Business will work closely with government on the design of the measures announced today. Since it was formed in November 2017, Be the Business has been piloting a number of interventions aimed at improving firm-level UK productivity. Our Productivity through People executive education programme for SME leaders improves management and leadership capability though a mix of peer learning, academic rigour and industry expertise.

Be the Business has also established communities of family-run businesses and hospitality firms to investigate the most effective ways of sharing performance and improving practices between companies.

The chancellor also called on FTSE companies to get behind Be the Business’s new mentoring programme for SMEs, “Mentoring for Growth”. To date, 13 leading companies (Accenture, Amazon, BAE Systems, Be the Business, BT, Cisco, EY, GSK, John Lewis Partnership, KPMG, McKinsey, Siemens UK and Sharing in Growth) have already signed up to provide over 130 mentors to small business leaders. Mentoring for Growth has been successfully piloted in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands and will expand nationwide from October 2018.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of Be the Business, said: “I’m delighted that improving our nation’s productivity is rising to the top of the agenda right across the political spectrum. It’s essential that our productivity movement is business led but government can play an important and supportive role through measures which boost British management practices and encourage technology adoption.

“We welcome the chancellor’s commitment to tackling the productivity challenge at firm-level and his support for the business-led movement we are building across the country.”

About interventions to boost firm level UK productivity

Executive education for SMEs

Executive education is a proven method of enhancing the management and leadership capability of businesspeople. It provides participants a framework to improve the competitiveness and efficiency of their business and developing their capability to transform working practices. It also helps firms increase productivity through the empowerment of their workforce.

There is currently a gap in provision for dedicated SME leadership and management training. Only one in ten UK business schools is a member of the Small Business Charter which recognises business schools that play an effective role in supporting small businesses, local economies and student entrepreneurship.

Existing courses often have particularly high costs and prohibitive time-commitments, reducing the likelihood that firms will seek out business school training and support. The Apprenticeship Levy in its current form cannot be used by businesses to fund executive education programmes for business leaders.

Encouraging SME leaders to step outside of their workplace to think about their business differently and reflect on current practices is one of the founding principles of Be the Business’s Productivity through People programme. Facilitated through three UK universities, Bath University Management School, Lancaster University Management School and University of Strathclyde, the programme provides SME leaders access to the latest techniques, thinking and research to transform their businesses’ productivity and working practices. The programme is based around applied learning techniques, specifically designed to help business leaders meet productivity challenges and drive improvements in their firms.

Other examples of similar programmes include the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme. Participants in this programme reported an average 22% improvement in their productivity after completing the course.


Mentoring is a proven way for leaders of successful companies to share what works with other business owners.

Well-implemented mentoring programmes enable mentees to learn from someone who has previously been in their shoes and share effective business practices. Mentors also find the experience of sharing their knowledge incredibly rewarding when matched with entrepreneurial SMEs.

Be the Business supports Mentoring for Growth, which matches SME leaders with an experienced business mentor to help them through expansion and improvement challenges. Our Mentoring for Growth programme, which included 36 mentors support 45 mentees in Greater Manchester and Greater Birmingham and Solihull during a pilot programme, is set to be launched nationally with over 130 mentors from 13 leading businesses (Accenture, Amazon, BAE Systems, Be the Business, BT, Cisco, EY, GSK, John Lewis Partnership, KPMG, McKinsey, Siemens UK and Sharing in Growth).

Business improvement networks

Business improvement networks enable best practices to be shared between firms that otherwise would not gain exposure to more efficient ways of working. The UK has many examples of peer networks that build communities of businesses, but few have the explicit goal of acting as networks of improvement. The UK’s existing business networks have unmet potential to improve the productivity of their members

Be the Business has launched two business improvement networks, a collection of family run firms in the North West, and a cluster of 75 hospitality companies in Cornwall to explicitly act as vehicles to share best practices between peers.

Members of these communities come together to share business ideas and solutions, both in person and via digital platforms. Businesses in these networks have already begun to identify challenges in common, and Be the Business is helping them to coalesce around solving them.

The business advice landscape

The UK has a highly specialised business advice environment, however it is currently disproportionately directed to the needs of large businesses and does not currently target an SME audience.

Coupled with this, many SMEs are unaware that there is an opportunity for them to improve their practices and are therefore highly unlikely to seek business support. This lack of demand is well established and a result of a series of market and information failures. For example, firms don’t realise they have a problem, or if they do they don’t know where to find support or how to value it.

Despite the benefits of external assistance, just 29 per cent of SME employers had sought external advice or information in the past year compared to 49 per cent of firms in 2010 , and most advice is transactional linked to day to day business problems (e.g. taxation, regulation, cash flow) as opposed to advice and support to transform the business).

Be the Business is working with the UK’s world-class advisory firms to on what they can do to boost their clients’ productivity. There is an opportunity to mobilise them alongside other existing avenues of business advice for small firms, such as banks and accountants to share more effective working methods with the entire SME community.

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