Fresh thinking at the Trade Association Forum Annual Conference

18 Mar

Celia Surtees, PCG Policy Adviser and Researcher

The Trade Association Forum (TAF) is to PCG what PCG is to freelancers – an essential tool to help us grow and develop. Founded in 1997, TAF encourages the development and sharing of best practice among trade associations, and promotes the role of trade associations to government and industry.

In order to keep our ideas fresh my colleague George Anastasi and I attended their annual conference at the CBI offices in the City.

For PCG one of the most important aspects of these events is to make contacts in other associations and share expertise. As always we were able to meet a number of people from across the whole spectrum of represented industries from cleaning to motorsport.

These cross sector meetings provide us with fascinating insight into a wide variety of issues such as staffing and small business growth and evaluate the variety of positioning taken by associations, often on the very same issues.

Down to business (literally) and the day started with a speech from the Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk. He spoke at length about the Government’s current small business and enterprise agenda and all eyes were looking for clues on the coalition’s next move.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, being only a few days after a Conservative Spring Forum where David Cameron “declared war on the enemies of enterprise”, Mr Prisk was keen to emphasise what the Government is doing to ease the administrative burden on small businesses and how the coalition will increase growth in the British economy.

Next up was the Chairman of Kingston Smith, Mark Boleat fuelling the debate on the changing role of trade associations. Mr Boleat was also one of the founders of TAF and was keen to highlight the increasing business and financial role for trade associations – a shift from their traditional 20th Century roots. He certainly pulled no punches.

He showcased firm ideas on how a trade association should operate which didn’t always make for comfortable listening for many industry stalwarts. In our view, many associations could be stronger for taking his recommendations seriously – TA’s are constantly moving entities and must adapt and grow alongside their membership.

After lunch we were treated to an excellent talk from the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow on engaging with Parliament. Until recently the Speaker rarely undertook public engagements outside the Commons however Mr Bercow, who took over the role in 2009, is seeking to change that.

Known for putting the cat amongst the pigeons he proved an engaging speaker as he shared his unique perspective on the role of Parliament as an institution and engaging with MPs. His tenure so far as Speaker has not been without controversy but at a time when respect for politicians appears to be at an all time low his ability to put a more human face on Parliament can only be a good thing.

The day ended with a presentation from the leading Futurologist Dr James Bellini on the changing world of work. Dr Bellini will be well known to most PCG members as he gave the inaugural Freelance Lecture as part of National Freelancers Day last November.

Dr. James Bellini on the front cover of the November 2010 Freelancing Matters magazine

It was refreshing to once again hear his sentiments that the freelance (or free agent as he calls it) way of working will becoming increasingly prevalent in the coming years as technology develops and allows people to work anywhere at any time and not be tied to an office.

A successful day of political and economic insights was therefore rounded off with a wakeup call to the old-school trade associations that freelancers are set to become more and more prevalent in their industries.

Bellini certainly gave the traditional industries represented food for thought and put freelancing at the centre of the debate and coupled with the small business agenda highlighted by Mr Prisk – we suddenly found ourselves rather coveted in the end of day networking drinks!

We hope it is a sign of things to come for freelancers across the UK.

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