The chamber has 1,250 members, which represents about 30% of the local business community, and about 140 staff across three sites.
I work in an area called the Business Task Force, set up about nine months ago. The team consists of five specialist areas: HR, IT, finance, health and safety and marketing, each represented by a business adviser. Its aim is to work intensively with businesses on strategic need. The companies involved do not have to be members of the chamber, but they do have to be based within the borough.
We operate mainly in the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector. By far the most common difference we’ve been able to make with these companies has been in employment legislation, making sure they are legally compliant, and that they have policies and employment contracts.
I can either work directly with the businesses as an HR business adviser, or I introduce them to HR. We fund that support. It’s completely free, although there are qualifying criteria. There has to be a business case, and it has to be approved by chamber management. The aim is not to provide funded, retained support on a long-term basis, but to get involved where there is a specific project that can safeguard jobs or enhance enterprise.
While we have assisted businesses through redundancies, we’ve also operated in more positive ways. For example, we’re working with a company setting up a new green technology operation within the UK. They are recruiting, and working with us to put in place good sourcing practices – for instance, job descriptions and personal specifications; how to work with agencies; and finding the best way to source the talent they need to grow the business.
The taskforce is funded for 18 months. Beyond that point, it’s impossible to say what will happen with it. But we hope to encourage businesses to see the benefits of HR and to get them to have better HR practices.
My six months with the taskforce has given me a clear idea of the areas where businesses most needed our help. So moving forward, I would like to broaden the scope of what we offer to encourage companies to develop their internal resources, perhaps by having better appraisal processes. I would like to make them look at the strategic level.