It has been a long time in preparation but, later this month, the CBI will unveil its Fit for the Future campaign. Following the report of the same name last September, the CBI won endorsement from then trade and industry secretary Margaret Beckett for an ‘industry-led, government-backed’ drive to improve productivity.
The central message is: bring manufacturing up to the average level of leading competitors through transferring best practice and the UK’s economy could gain by £60bn. Do the same across the whole economy and gross domestic product would rise by £300bn.
Staggering sums, but they are achievable, claims the CBI report. It adds: ‘No other approach has the characteristics of simplicity, of being universally adoptable and of having the potential to deliver substantial improvements in our competitiveness in anything like the same timescale.’
Eighteen months later, the productivity issue has been thrown into even sharper focus by the tribulations of Rover’s Longbridge factory. The Competitiveness White Paper, also due in the next two weeks, will focus on productivity and industry secretary Peter Mandelson will endorse Fit for the Future as an important pointer to the way forward.
Andy Scott, CBI international competitiveness director, says Fit for the Future is more about creating a network to co-ordinate what already exists. He prefers not to talk of a ‘launch’ with its connotations of a short-lived media event, seeing this more as the start of a long campaign.
‘There are already lots of excellent initiatives,’ he says. ‘The question is, what can we do to add greater value, to get a greater return out of the total effort going in?’
In answer to complaints about a lack of coherence, Fit for the Future will be a national effort to bring together existing programmes and give greater profile to their efforts, encouraging others to come aboard.
The aim is a step change in productivity with the CBI ‘not driving, but playing a catalytic role’.
Scott says many companies are confused by the different offers of help and support. ‘We are trying to bring long-term coherence, while supporting organisations so they can avoid going through the same learning process for each initiative.’ In future, the aim is that all organisations offering assistance or advice will give the same message.
The CBI will be working extensively with three groups of partners as the initial phase gets under way. First are sectoral bodies and trade associations. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders will have a key role here, with its Industry Forum cited as a prime example of how a sector can help itself to improve performance. Aerospace is another leading sector. But the initiative will not be confined to manufacturing: construction, leisure, tourism and the financial sector are also being brought in.
The CBI’s Trade Associations Council will have an important role. Scott says: ‘We’re trying to get as many associations signed up as possible in the next 12 months.’
The second main group is regionally-based bodies. Scott expects the new Regional Development Agencies for England to become focal points. Organisations such as Business Links and Tecs will also be involved. The North-east Competitiveness Programme could act as a blueprint for others. It involved the Northern Development Company, the local Government office, Business Links, Tecs, local universities and business schools. It has worked with 700 companies over three years, using a variant of the CBI’s Probe benchmarking tool.
Third, national support bodies will be targeted. These include Investors in People, British Chambers of Commerce and the Industrial Society.
Scott says the initiative took so long to prepare partly because discussions were still going on in the DTI’s Competitiveness Advisory Forum. The launch also had to be co-ordinated with the Competitiveness White Paper. ‘And with so much emphasis on being a network, we didn’t want to go live without a range of players on board,’ he adds.
The DTI has provided pump-priming funds which will help with promotional activity, and has seconded an official to Scott’s team alongside secondees from industry.
The emphasis during the first year will be ‘getting as complete a picture as we can of what’s going on’, Scott says.
To monitor the campaign’s effectiveness, Scott will look at levels of signing up and involvement of targeted organisations; monitor targets set up in each industry sector; attempt to quantify productivity gains and the benefits; and publish a series of best practice case studies.
He admits measuring the results could be problematic. ‘We are never going to be able to make 100% linkage between cause and effect, but we aren’t going to argue about the last decimal point,’ he says.
Examples of best practice initiatives succeeding despite a tough environment will get ‘Fit for the Future’ branding.
‘The acid test will be: can we show benefits, either through networking or general awareness, of cost reductions, step changes in productivity, improved use of factory or office space, time to market, or reduced cycle times? The more we can put costs to these activities, the better.’