Shevaun Haviland is the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce

From Carlisle to Barrow, Whitehaven to Appleby - Cumbria is a county full of successful and dynamic companies. Every single day they are making a real difference to the economy and their local communities.   

Last July, I travelled to Cumbria. I spent a wonderful time visiting manufacturing and engineering firms, and I met with 40 of the county’s most influential business leaders.   

I heard first-hand about their hopes and dreams, but also their concerns and frustrations.   

Over 12 months on, it remains a challenging time for businesses in Cumbria, and across the UK. Interest rates are continuing to rise, inflation remains higher than we would like to see, and the labour market is incredibly tight. Added to this, SMEs are continuing to try and navigate the post-Brexit trade landscape.   

 So, what are we doing as the British Chambers of Commerce to help you in these challenging times?  

 At the BCC we are owned by our local chambers. We listen to the concerns of firms in Cumbria and beyond. We then take those concerns directly to government and other stakeholders, to make sure the UK is the best place to start and grow a business.   

 Now more than ever, we need an effective voice for business. We are that voice - but only because of the chamber network and their members. Local roots and a national voice.  

 Speaking to colleagues in Cumbria, I know staff shortages are perhaps the number one challenge companies are facing right now. And it goes wider than the well-publicised hospitality industry which employs so many people in the county. Firms of all shapes and sizes are now struggling to get staff.   

We are urging government to prioritise skills, to boost productivity. We are also calling for sensible and affordable immigration policy for companies recruiting workers from overseas.   

When we speak to government our policy asks are always supported by evidence. Many businesses in Cumbria already help shape national policy through our Quarterly Economic Survey. Now in its 33rd year, the survey is a leading economic indicator. The data is closely watched by policymakers, including the Treasury and the Bank of England.   

In Cumbria:

For some time now, the BCC has been considering how to best use our fabulous network to help us tackle the challenges right now, and the years ahead. The answer is ‘Where Business Belongs’ – a clear focus underpinning everything we do. We want to use the power of our collective voice to shape the future of business.  

It doesn’t matter what type of business you are, whether you’re a self-employed plumber looking to grow your network, an SME seeking supply-chain opportunities or a corporate worried about the UK’s VAT regime – chambers are there for everyone.    

 We are for all businesses who want to be part of a powerful collective that come together to connect, grow, and make a difference.    

 Supporting ‘Where Business Belongs’ are two further projects which we believe are crucial as we face up to a likely general election within a year, and the need for a strong business voice to be heard by both the government and the opposition.   

 The first of these is our new Economic Advisory Council. It is helping to shape and guide our economic policies to boost the UK’s growth and prosperity. The prominent economic and business experts are joining us to help listen to chambers and businesses, and then shape policy. The membership of the council reflects the diversity of our economy – with experts in the subject areas of financial services, logistics, trade, and taxation.   

 The final piece of the puzzle is the BCC’s new Business Council, comprised of prominent business leaders from leading national firms. These businesses want to be part of a framework that’s rooted in their local communities, but with the ability to shape the national and international debate.    

 The Council is a long-term project and will bring together leaders from across UK industry to consider the key policy issues faced by British businesses, and work on Future of the Economy initiative, convened by our president, Baroness Martha Lane Fox.    

 This initiative will focus on five challenges: Digital Revolution, People and Work, Net Zero, Global Britain and the High Street.    

The voice of business needs to be heard loud and clear, and Where Business Belongs is a long-standing focus, to offer choice to businesses and ensure that they are heard at a critical time.   

 We’re at a pivotal moment for the economy. We’ve been serving British businesses for over 160 years, and we will continue to represent their interests at the highest levels of decision making.   

 By working together, we can make sure the voice of Cumbria is always heard in the national conversation.