Putting the 'Smart' into economic growth
Smart and flexible working practices - 'Smart
Flexibility' - add a new dimension to how we should
pursue economic growth.
Here is our Nine Point
for a smarter approach to growth:
1) Focus on
creating flexible jobs
Part-time work and
temporary work are not only better than no work, but
can have many advantages for both employee and
employer. Though constantly criticised from
traditionalists on the Left as 'not real jobs', the
fact is that three quarters of people in part-time
or temporary work do this through choice rather than
necessity - even in a recession.
And even if for
would prefer to have full-time or permanent work,
being in this kind of employment is a better
stepping stone forwards than being out of work. It
can be a chance to make new contacts or learn new
skills, as well as being important to the CV.
Employers should be encouraged to take a more
flexible approach, rather than wait until they can
be sure that they can afford full-time and permanent
roles. There is a wealth of talent waiting in
2) Aim for spaceless growth
Using the smart working techniques highlighted in
Flexibility.co.uk, companies can reduce the costs of
taking on people to a minimum. Smart Working
environments mean that new employees can use
existing shared spaces, eliminating the additional
facilities costs associated with office moves.
This also involves employees being equipped at the
outset with technologies for mobility, that can be
used both in the office and beyond.
companies this can mean having a strategy of
expanding as an entirely virtual company.
And for many companies this can also mean a strategy
of 'expanding into smaller space'. Traditional ways
of organising work and offices leads to huge amounts
of underused space. Cutting space and
channelling resources into productive work is one
key area of promoting growth. It's about
investing in people rather than real estate.
Respond to changing global markets with
Using techniques of virtual mobility
is important for reducing both business travel and
commuting travel. That means reducing costs to
both employers and employees - saving money that can
be spent more productively elsewhere.
But virtual mobility purely
offers more than just
these savings. Today, business agility is
based on virtual mobility.
Global markets are undergoing
massive changes. The emerging economies in
Asia, Latin America and Africa present huge
opportunities to companies that are agile and
adaptable and ready to build new relationships and
sell into these markets.
face-to-face 'getting to know you' meetings and
meetings to seal the deal will often continue to play a
part, most interactions will be online using a
variety of techniques including virtual meetings.
In the UK, we are generally behind the game on this,
and it's no coincidence that we are also slow in entering these
And where a person is needed on the ground in these new
areas, the principles of spaceless growth apply -
minimum overhead is the order or the day, using
professional third party office or meeting
facilities as needed. Hospitality budgets will
tend to be more important than office accommodation
budgets. But learning good techniques to build
relationships at a distance are even more important.
4) Speed up truly
high speed broadband with 100% coverage - and no
At last there seems to be some
movement on rolling out fast broadband in the UK.
But it remains very patchy, and parts of the country
will remain out of scope.
broadband is vital for modern businesses.
Higher upload as well as download speeds are
essential, both for
virtual meetings and to deliver products and
services online. And the need for bandwidth
will only increase as new technologies come on
stream - think 3D media and meetings, for example.
Policy has focused on broadband users as
consumers. The needs of a widening
population of freelance and small business producers has been neglected and
needs to be brought centre stage.
interesting to compare the £530 million
earmarked to stimulate commercial providers to roll
out high speed broadband with the mind-boggling £33
billion set aside for a high speed rail line
between London and Manchester,
which will have much more limited economic benefits.
It's a clear sign of the 'old hat' thinking that
still tends to dominate in the world of economic
5) Create a dynamic
programme to promote and facilitate home-based
We have known for a long time that
most new businesses (around 60%) start at home.
Over 40% of all businesses are home-based. But
so far government has not done anything practical to
promote or support it.
Our investigations with the Live/Work Network
home-based businesses and
workhubs show a clear
demand, many success stories and pioneering new
ideas for supporting home-based enterprise.
running home-based businesses need easy-to-access
business support and access to professional business
spaces and services on an as-needed basis, and
access to good networking opportunities. 21st
century business support needs to be completely
remodelled in this context.
Part of the solution
is to find better uses for unwanted employment land.
Building homes that operate as both living and
working space (live/work) is a far better option
than building pure residential zones in this kind of
6) Integrate public
sector reform with economic development
Working is a key element of the current wave of
public sector reform. Reducing property and
enabling staff to be more mobile - including
working from home - are key elements of cost savings and
efficiency for government and public services.
These types of measures can be
integrated with planned measures to boost the local
economy. Here's how:
- staff working at or
closer to home do spend more money in the local
community, providing there are services there to
- vacated buildings can be used to support
economic growth, as workhubs that support both
mobile public sector staff and provide facilities
and networking centres for home-based and local
It just needs a bit more
joined-up thinking to support an innovative
7) Promote a 21st century approach to business
Business incubators do a great job
helping start-ups and small businesses expand and
grow. Increasingly there is an emphasis on
offering virtual services. And there is far
less of a need to offer physical premises as part of
The 21st century new business operates on
lower overheads, and the 'business park' incubation
model is no longer needed, as well as being
Local authorities and
other government agencies need to look at supporting
new businesses without seeking to centralise them in
one location, and the services supplied need to be
agile and reach new businesses wherever they are
8) Boost support for the
unemployed to move into self-employment
is more that employment advisors can do than
encourage people without work to polish their CV
and send endless job applications.
The time is
right to try to break the dependency mindset
that sees the choice as being only benefits,
jobs or training. These are the low risk
options, and the most natural to focus on.
By comparison, starting a business may seem high
risk. But wouldn't it be better to do far
more to encourage people - especially the young
unemployed - into taking their first steps into
We don't have all the answers here
- but maybe there is a piece of work that needs
to be done to ease the path (in terms of loss of
benefits) into enterprise. There is an
irony here that for the most part, you can have
state financial support if you are not
enterprising, but lose it if you try to be.
9) Sweep away regulation that constrains
Most new businesses
start at home, and two things that worry people
thinking of starting up are planning permission
and business rates. Often these worries
are not well-founded, but they inhibit
The government should just clarify the
situation by sweeping away the doubt. This
would mean saying neither business rates nor the
need for planning permission apply to home-based
micro-businesses that create no local
disturbance or extra need for local services,
and are clearly ancillary to the main
residential use of the home as a whole.
should be no question of having to classify part
of a home differently if it used for the typical
home-based modern business or freelance work
that has no impact on neighbours.
to lay the conditions for the recovery to begin
The old solutions are not going to work
Our Nine Point Plan is based on clear thinking
about the future of work and the changing world we
live in. We are going through a painful period
of readjustment, and it's time to look ahead - to
think what the world will be like in 10 years, and
then plan how to be best placed to take advantage of
Any measures for economic growth have to
recognise the changes that are going on, in
- The nature of work is changing fast - it is
faster, more fluid and footloose. So the
infrastructure and skills needed for this new
kind of work is different
- Traditional forms of inward investment will
not happen, or not to any significant scale.
Enterprises employing thousands of people in
traditional sectors will be based in the
emerging economies, not in West, South or
Central Europe. So any dreams about this
need to be set aside, though it may upset
industrial romantics on the Left.
- The old 'collectivist' solutions won't work
in the 21st century. The future lies with people
willing to break out of the 'dependency mindset'
- that is, depending on the state or other large
entities to provide jobs, training, or benefits.
There are major cultural barriers to overcome
here, especially in areas with low
self-employment and heavy dependence on the
public sector, like the North of England, Wales
and Scotland. The old times are not coming
back, so a fresh and enterprising approach is
- There are exciting new sectors developing
which offer the prospect of transforming the way
we live and work, based on new materials
science, biotechnology and genetics,
nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and
robotics, and new communications technology. The
physical infrastructure, skills and commercial
context to support these sectors all need to
develop fast to support innovation and growth.
That means on the one hand the digital networks,
and on the other the smart and agile companies
and networks of highly-skilled and mobile
individuals that can collaborate across
- The 'four generation society' means that
being economically active will mean that the
sharp divisions between work and non-work will
fade more and more, with people seeking work more
individually tailored to their circumstances.
Part-time work, short-term contracts,
homeworking and freelancing are already favoured
choices by many, and fit well with different
stages of life. So 'old hat' approaches that sees
growth as primarily about promoting full-time
jobs at a separate workplace are flying in the
face of a range of trends.
So we have a choice - do we adapt or not?
One thing is clear: subsidising old solutions
through increased borrowing is not the answer.
Any new investment has to have its eyes set
firmly on the future.