Businesses in Dorset need to prepare now for the workplace of the future, the first conference of its kind in the county heard.
More than 150 people attended the inaugural Dorset Business Festival Conference, held by Dorset Chamber at the Hilton Hotel Bournemouth.
On stage, five panels of experts discussed a range of topics relevant to growth as the UK emerges from 15 years of economic shocks hindering productivity.
Hosted by business journalist broadcaster Declan Curry, and open to the whole business community, the event was part of the four-day Festival culminating in the gala dinner awards evening at the hotel.
Discussions focused on the workplace of the future, ESG for business growth, town centre regeneration, AI & technology for the future and skills for future growth.
Law firm Lester Alridge was Premier Festival Partner and Festival Partners were Blue Sky Financial Planning, Bournemouth and Poole College, Dorset Council, The Dolphin in Poole and YMCA Bournemouth.
Dorset Chamber’s chief executive, Ian Girling, said afterwards: “This is the first conference of its kind that the Chamber, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next year and has 650 members driving the local economy, has put on.
“We touched upon some really important issues today – we know we must develop our workplaces as we look to the future, including reducing our carbon footprints, knowing how to incorporate AI responsibly and productively into work tasks and that local employers must do all they can to engage regularly with schools and colleges.
“Feedback on the conference has been superb, with inspired delegates jotting down notes to take back to their own businesses as discussion and action points.
“It was apparent that businesses need to prepare now for the workplace of the future. However, many are already on the case thankfully – and the conference will have initiated boardroom conversations which will power positive change so that businesses are as ready as they can be for tomorrow’s working world.”
Digital polls of delegates also provided real-time feedback on workplace issues. In response to one question – underlining the tight labour market in the county – nearly three-quarters of respondents replied that it was “tricky” to recruit the right people for their business.
Setting the wider context for businesses was keynote speaker David Smith, economics editor at The Sunday Times since 1989.
He illustrated how the UK has been battered by repeated shocks since the global financial crash in 2008-9.
These included Brexit, the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine (resulting in record energy price rises), the cost-of-living crisis driven by stubbornly high inflation, £2.6 trillion of public debt, the highest tax burden since the Second World War and the highest Bank of England base interest rate in 15 years.
David also pointed out that Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng were the first Prime Minister and Chancellor to be brought down by the financial markets following the disastrous mini budget in September 2022.
As a consequence of all these shocks, UK productivity – which determines whether we are prosperous and competitive or not – has been “dire”; in the 15 years since 2008, GDP per head rose by just 6% compared to 42% in the previous 15 years.
This means that the UK has a growth and productivity problem; consensus forecasts are for 0.3% growth this year and similar next year, that a recession will be probably avoided but there won’t be much growth either.
What does this mean for Dorset, which has 52,000 businesses, with 90% employing 10 or less people?
David said: “Worker shortages should be starting to ease, as should cost pressures. But plenty of longer-term challenges remain, including transport infrastructure, skills, etc, and the levelling up agenda is not what it was.”
Following on, panellists shared insights, aspirations and reflections in response to probing questions by Declan.
Panel 1 looked at The Workforce of the Future, with Lord Mark Price, Founder of WorkL, Kevin Barnett, Partner, Lester Alridge, Karen Parkinson, Head of HR at Keith Spicer, and Councillor Jill Haynes, Portfolio Holder, Dorset Council.
Panel 2 focused on ESG for Business Growth, with Dr Gareth Sherwood, CEO of YMCA Bournemouth, Gary Neild, CEO of Blue Sky Financial Planning, Emily Fripp, CEO of Efeca, and Howard Gunstock, Eco-Champion at Carbon Kapture.
Panel 3 explored Town Centre Regeneration with Claire Whitaker CBE, CEO of Southampton Forward, Denz Ibrahim, Head of Retail and Futuring, Legal & General, Adam Walker, Co-Founder and Entrepreneur, Foundry, Tom Alder, Head of Real Estate at Lester Aldridge, and Debbie Oldfield, Designing-Out Crime Officer, Dorset Police.
Panel 4 discussed AI & Tech for the Future with Matt Hammond, CEO and Founder, Talk Think Do, Andrew Radcliffe, Co-Founder and MD, Spyrosoft, Jake Moore, Global Cybersecurity Advisor, ESET, Matt Desmier, Strategist, Advisor, Mentor, Bournemouth University, and Adam Greenwood, Entrepreneur, Founder, The Human Tech Agency.
Panel 5, on Skills for Future Growth, comprised Nicola Newman, Project Lead, Dorset LSIP, Phil Sayles, Principal & CEO, Bournemouth and Poole College, Michelle Jacques, Strategist, Data Specialist, Reach plc, Dr Deborah Taylor, Senior Leader Apprenticeship, Bournemouth University, and David Smith.
CONFERENCE CALL: From left, Dorset Chamber’s chief executive, Ian Girling, business journalist broadcaster Declan Curry and keynote speaker David Smith, economics editor at The Sunday Times. More than 150 people attended the inaugural Dorset Business Festival Conference, held by Dorset Chamber at the Hilton Bournemouth and hosted by Declan. Five discussion panels, with 25 experts in their fields, focused on the workplace of the future, ESG for business growth, town centre regeneration, AI & technology for the future and skills for future growth.