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Latest thoughts on the Business Services Sector

Interview with Mark Fox, CEO Business Services Association on the Business Services Sector.

House of Parliament

The Business Services Association (BSA) is the leading industry body for companies that provide outsourced, infrastructure and construction services across the private and public sectors. The industry employs over three million people and accounts for about 8% of economic output.

Approximately 70% of business services is business to business, and 30% is public to private. But it is the public sector element of service provision and project delivery that tends to grab the most of the public attention.

The role of the BSA is to provide a forum where these businesses can come together to talk about public policy, common values and interests. The BSA leads discussion with Government, Regulators and other bodies, together with organisations we seek to do business with, to explain who we are, what we do and how we can help.

The BSA has represented members since 1993 and during the 20+ years, membership has broadened and deepened its engagement as the sector itself has matured and become more coherent. BSA representation has evolved to reflect the very dynamic nature of the members and the BSA itself has grown organically from 14 members to over 60 members in the last eight years and it continues a path of steady and managed growth.

Impact of Brexit?

In our discussions with members of our committees and our Council, we have been preparing mentally and administratively for Brexit since the general election in 2015.

Post-vote, we have continued those discussions but it is far too early to fully understand the true impact of Brexit because, of course, Britain hasn’t actually left the European Union at the moment so everything is as it was. We will not know what the architecture of Britain leaving the EU looks like until the Government tells us.

As they shape their strategy we are having excellent engagement across government – the Brexit Department (the new department that has been created to manage the process) and all other departments are engaging extremely well with business. In parallel, government departments across the piece are working to ensure they collect the relevant data and absorb views. They are listening and communicating well.

Brexit signals the end of Devolution?

Of course not! There is still an enormous opportunity for devolvement – and this is across the UK. The political complexions matter much less than they would have 20 or 30 years ago. We are leading a regional programme and devolved administration programme across the UK. We are meeting with mayoral candidates where the mayoralties are being set up – and where there are existing administrations, we are meeting with them.

The regional programme is a really, really important part of what the BSA is doing; members are extremely interested. If anything, the post-Brexit attitude has hardened the desire for redistributing power from central government out to the regions.

But it is not just the BSA who are engaging the devolution stakeholders at a local and regional level. BSA Members are too – and we strongly encourage it. We are a facilitator; we are not meant to be a barrier.

Changing Political Landscape

This year we started off with a relatively new government, though – as it was a Conservative Government – we have had the core agenda of working through the priorities in a post-coalition phase. Tightening of budgets was the central theme.

Then we had the European vote which obviously created a lot of interest and stimulation that caused central government politicians to focus on different things. The ramifications were, in effect, another new government with Mrs May as Prime Minister and a huge turnaround in ministers and civil servants across central government.

With devolution, we have new mayors and combined authorities being set up so that has meant a steady recalibration. We had elections in Scotland and Wales which were important, and so on.

It has been a very political-centric year. Our focus has been on helping members navigate their way through the political change in an era where scrutiny, accountability and the pressure for value for money is ever increasing.

But it is more than just navigating through the “politics”. That is a means to an end – it is about commercial opportunity; or about partnering if we’re talking about the public sector, to drive future opportunity for the Business Services sector.

Closing Thoughts…

In 2017 we expect the issues to remain fundamentally the same as 2016 and we have got to make sure that the BSA and its members are as informed and as plugged in as possible. We need to remain innovative and fresh in the way that we provide services to our members.

Business cycles follow the path of a sine curve. We know this. Any economist can provide you with as good a guess as to when we are going to have the next upturn or the next downturn. But it is always our view that the political environment is the most unpredictable and also the most impactful, particularly within the Business Services sector.

Whether it is referendums or devolution to Scotland, Wales and English regions, there will be a profound impact for all businesses everywhere who need to stay closely in touch with public opinion.

We need to understand what people are thinking in the communities in which we’re all living and working. We are not just businesses, but people who live and work in these communities. We are quite canny in our sector because we are used to delivering services by just keeping an ear open as to what is going on and responding to it. Why? Because we are very flexible, very adaptable, very robust, and that is what the role of the BSA is; to walk along with the members, staying alert. How can we freshen up what we do? How can we stay in tune with what’s happening?


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