Do trade bodies deliver?

Posted on 9 Aug 2010 by The Manufacturer

Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners, questions the point of some business surveys and suggests trade bodies should focus more effort on lobbying government to retain PPPs.

Another day, yet another survey – this time from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIDP). It tells us that one third of the six hundred employer members it contacted expect to cut jobs over the next three months. test

Before you start panicking, wondering why you as an employer aren’t among those planning to cut jobs, let me remind you of what the latest statistics show: There are in the UK some 2.15 million enterprises registered for VAT, meaning that six hundred is a mere drop in the ocean.

Ergo, this report tells us very little and, worse, it provides absolutely no real added value. Just like a million other trade bodies seeking to justify their existence through headline-grabbing surveys, the CIDP tells us absolutely nothing that we don’t already know.

Instead of telling us that unemployment will go up because 600,000 public sector jobs will be lost over the next five years, the CIPD would have done better by its members by putting out the message that the Government ought to exercise great caution over cuts. It could, additionally, have suggested leaving the various private finance initiatives and public private partnerships that have been set up over the last few years. It is worth remembering what these public sector jobs do: provide reasonable value for the taxpayer at little risk, and provide employment to many thousands of people.

Sadly, it seems that providing forward-thinking ideas and help is not the job of trade associations these days. To all intents and purposes the real objective of too many trade organisations is to grab press headlines and achieve general media coverage.

In light of the fact that we are in the deepest economic mess that we have seen for a couple of generations, I really do believe that the job of trade organisations today is to do more for their members than telling them what they already know.

Yes, I accept that they must provide views on issues such as unemployment, skill shortages, employment taxes, etc. But they must also provide added value for their members in the form of helpful, workable ideas.

Let’s face it – these are challenging and unfamiliar times. The recovery that has pushed the UK fractionally away from recession may soon run out of steam. If so, the private sector will have no choice but to batten down the hatches and make itself ever more efficient and competitive – which would mean preparing the ground for further job cuts.

With a trading environment such as we have, a fragile outlook and real (as opposed to recovery) growth hardly registering on the scales, we know full well that the chances of private sector employers mopping up all the 600’000 plus public sector jobs yet to be lost is out of the question.

Employers, many of whom pay fees for membership to organisations such as the CIPD, gain very little from small-scale surveys such as this one.

If these trade organisations think that the government is particularly eager to listen to their moaning, they had better think again. Remember how, all those years ago, Margaret Thatcher kicked the CBI into touch when she got fed up with their complaining? How, back in the late eighties, big employers walked away from the Engineering Employers Federation following a bust-up over pay?

Rather than tell employers what they already know, or aren’t interested in hearing, trade organisations such as the CIPD would do a lot better to work quietly beneath the surface finding new ways to help members. Instead, they put the fear of God into ever more hard-pressed and de-motivated employees.

The views expressed in Mr Wheeldon’s blog are not necessarily the views of this publication