On Wednesday 10th June 2009 we held a breakfast meetings at the Spurriergate Centre with special guest Susie Cawood head of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.
Chris Cullwick of the Workplace Chaplaincy introduced Susie by saying that the church hasn’t always had a good track record of engaging with business. Recent events and the current recession have not helped this as so many people have lost trust in the banking system and recognised the lack of Christian ethos in the business world.
This would therefore seem the best time of all to reach out and try and make links between church and business. It is high time that we investigated how we could help and for that reason we welcomed Susie.
Our guest began by explaining that the York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce is a small but vibrant, not-for-profit business. With over 3000 members from large employers to new business start-ups, the organisation has membership rates for every size from £125 for one-man-bands to £1400 for those who employ over a thousand.
The Chamber offers a range of services to members. Commercial services such as a legal helpline, healthcare plans, and a commercial identity protection scheme are available. Business support, the opportunity to showcase services, and advice on local and international promotion are all part of the package. The Chamber is also a source for news about the local economy.
Because of its independence from government, the Chamber is always the first call for comment in the local media. On a weekly basis the Chamber passes on the views of its members to local and national government.
Chamber events are also very important for networking. Recent training that has been available through the Chamber has covered subjects such as social networking, selling to the public sector, cold calling and IT.
Susie told us that York has a diverse economy, which is a good thing to have in a recession. Our economy has shifted away from traditional manufacturing to having a strong service sector, tourism, a science cluster and financial services. Despite the implications to financial services in this recession, York is doing fairly well. There are 35000 businesses turning over £13.5 billion in the region, 80% of which employ no more than 10 people.
84% of the population of York are economically active compared to 79% nationally. Science city has seen 99 business start up that now employ 2800 people. The average labour cost in York is 13% lower than the national average and 31% lower than London. This may not indicate high wages but it is a good reason for businesses to be here. Of the 4 million tourists that York sees a year they sepnd £291 million which has a huge effect on the local economy.
The recession leaves us with a huge gap of confidence. Every statistic we see in this recession represents real people, and it is especially here that the church can help.
At a recent Chamber dinner, Peter Jay spoke about the recession and said “one day everyone will wake somehow knowing it is over – panic ends as mysteriously as it starts”.
Out of a question and answer session, it became clear that Susie believes that people are worried and nervous. Although the housing market locally is starting to move, there are very few houses on the market to buy. The media keeps telling us to be anxious and painting a very bad news picture. Whereas she praised the local press, Susie did tell us one anecdote of a journalist who couldn’t submit positive business stories to their editor because ‘they weren’t printing that type of story at the moment’.
Our guest reassured us that many businesses take corporate social responsibility very seriously – she pointed to ‘York Cares’ as an example of this. The only problem on this front is that not enough businesses recognise the size of the contribution to voluntary services that comes from the church.
David Casswell led prayer for the work of the Chamber and for Susie Cawood in particular.