The reform of business representation in Britain 1970-1997
Britain has a fragmented, overlapping and under-resourced system of business representation. Attempts at reform, however, have proved difficult and largely unsuccessful. The thesis investigates the reasons for this failure, with an emphasis throughout upon the rationalisation of association structures and the political and economic significance of reform. A coherent and logical system of business representation is relevant, both in terms of an effective dialogue between government and business, and the promotion of competitiveness and productivity. Dialogue will prove difficult whilst there is a confused system of associations. Evidence suggests, moreover, that better organised and resourced associations would assist the competitiveness of British industry. The main focus of the thesis is the Devlin Commission on Industrial and Commercial Representation. This was set up in January 1971 by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce (ABCC) and was an attempt to both modernise and rationalise Britain's system of business representation. It reported in November 1972 but its recommendations would prove controversial with business and no significant changes would result. Devlin, therefore, was both a disappointment and a lost opportunity. The thesis also looks at how the debate regarding effective business representation has continued from both a business and government perspective. The Heseltine initiatives of the 1990's would, for example, bring fresh impetus to the subject and produce, among other measures, a series of benchmarking exercises leading to the establishment of the Trade Association Forum (TAF). The twin challenges of globalisation and new technologies are providing a new stimulus to change, leading to the renewed prospect of progress towards a more effective system of business representation. It is, therefore, an appropriate time to review the efforts made thirty years ago, learn lessons from them, and link the earlier debate to more recent efforts to secure reform.