On 6th February 1952, Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne when the UK was exhausted from war and rationing. But on her watch, the economy soon began to boom. New shopping centres and housing were built, followed by the first motorway.That’s not to say there haven’t been difficult times since. But here at the Chamber we like to think we’ve followed the Queen’s lead.
Here’s how we continue to be businesses’ “strength and stay” in our region, through change, challenge, and opportunity.
British business then and now
Business has seen many changes during the Queen’s reign. Until the 1960s, industrialisation fuelled the UK’s economy, with manufacturing accounting for roughly a third of GDP.
However, by 1970, the service industry accounted for 56% of the UK economy, and by 2016 this had reached 80%.
Inevitably, there were casualties along the way – the mighty coal industry being one of them – but deindustrialisation is not the only change the Queen and the Chamber have presided over, and neither has all the change been for the worse – on the contrary.
There has been, for example, a pronounced shift towards equal rights. The percentage of women working has continued to grow over the last few decades, with a sharp increase in the number of females entering self-employment since the 2008 economic downturn.
The changing face of business in Bedfordshire
Nonetheless, Bedfordshire has not been immune to many of the challenges of change. The county was once known for its brick industry, for example, with Stewartby and Marston Vale home to the largest brickworks in the world. But the site closed in 2008, and its remaining chimneys were demolished last year.
Another symbol of Bedfordshire’s proud industrial past was vehicle manufacturing. However, this too has changed during the Queen’s reign, with the conversion of the Bedford commercial vehicle plant at Dunstable into a retail site, and numerous changes at Vauxhall in Luton.
But through all this, just like Her Majesty, the Chamber has been a constant – there every step of the way, enabling its members to surmount change and move forward.
70 years (and more) of business support
During these changes, we’ve supported local businesses to weather the storm and find new ways to become productive and profitable. (In fact, we’ve been doing this since 1877.)
For example, the 1990s decline in manufacturing hit Bedfordshire hard. To tackle this, we worked with the Department of Trade and Industry to support businesses to start and grow exports, with missions to Malaysia, Singapore, and the USA. Nearly thirty years on, this support has expanded, with our comprehensive package of international trade services that help local businesses go global.
Today, we support over 700 businesses with 60,000 employees across all sectors. We also work with partners to support events specifically aimed at the growing number of female entrepreneurs and business owners.
It is no secret that the last couple of years have been difficult for most businesses. However, we’ve continued to provide the advice, connections and support needed for business growth, and to lobby government, ensuring the voices of our businesses are heard.
Just as the Queen has provided unfailing leadership of the country over her lifetime, Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce has been showing local businesses the way forward throughout the last few decades of deindustrialisation – keeping calm and carrying on, as one might say!
If you’d like the same steady support for your business, now and in the future, call us on (01582) 522448 to find out more about membership.