Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today at the fourth annual conference of the Trade Association Forum. By joining you today, I hope to deliver a strong and positive message from the Government to the trade association movement about the importance we attach to the work you are doing to help the policy making process. The Forum represents a major step forward in a drive for self-improvement by the trade association movement, and we welcome the positive and focused way in which it has developed since its inception in 1997.
It has increased its membership, maintained a range of high profile events and activities for its members, and commissioned some fundamental research work, which DTI has been pleased to support.
The Forum is to be commended for the key role it has played in promoting the role of trade associations. Through creating a positive business environment, helping to form public policy and supporting their members with appropriate services, by disseminating best practice and increasing the professionalism of trade associations. You recognise that trade associations are operating in an ever-changing world.
That means the Forum - like all other organisations - need to constantly ask themselves whether they are delivering the services that their members need, how good they are at doing so - in terms of both quality and value for money - and what needs to be done to raise their performance, because there is no room for complacency.
In acknowledging this point about raising the level of performance, I would like to set it into context of the Government's Competitiveness White Paper - "Opportunity for all in a world of change", published last month.
One of its central messages: "creating opportunity through change", is one, which I think is particularly relevant to what the Forum and indeed trade associations are seeking to achieve.
As the principal representatives of business, trade associations must be prepared to foster the principle of change in ways that will benefit industry in terms of competitiveness and long-term prosperity.
The Government is acutely aware of the need for industry to be competitive in a fast changing global market. That is why we have provided such a wide range of business support initiatives to stimulate and encourage industry's competitiveness and growth.
To be innovative, to add value, to make the most of and to improve skill levels, to be creative and be able to adapt to the transformation taking place because of new technology.
A good example has been the recent completion of ten e-commerce impact assessment studies commissioned by my department. The ten sector studies (steel, aerospace, motor vehicle retailing, downstream gas, telecom services, electronics manufacturing, chemical, upstream oil & gas, biotechnology and metal forming & finishing) made recommendations for Government and industry action to encourage e-commerce.
These are now being taken forward by officials in my department in partnership with industry bodies, particularly trade associations. Many of you here today, may already be involved in this exciting new challenge. Our objective is to help the UK become the best place in the world for e-commerce by 2002. A further 50 sector impact assessment studies will be completed this year.
As a result of this success, we announced in the Competitiveness White Paper that an additional £30 million would be made available, under the UK Online for Business initiative, to help businesses move beyond having a web-site or trading online to transform themselves through the effective use of ICT (Information Communication Technologies).
To do this, we aim to offer businesses a package of support to increase their capability to use ICT. Those SMEs wanting to improve their ICT equipment and skills will benefit from this initiative.
This will be delivered at local level through: a dedicated service provided by UK Online for business advisers located in every Business Links; a range of showcasing, demonstrators and other best practice activities giving practical examples of business benefits from using ICT. There has been a significant interest from a wide range of sectors including some from trade associations who wish to take up the challenge.
The UK online for business initiative offers a wide range of help and advice aimed at making sure SMEs keep up with the fast moving nature of e-commerce and embrace the business benefits of trading online, a major driver of competitiveness.
The main strands of the initiative are: raising awareness of the business benefits of ICT's; setting up channels for advice; and providing tools for implementation.Trade Associations too can reap the benefits of their advice and promote it to their members.
The underlining message I hope you will take away today, is the importance the Government attaches to our partnership with industry representative bodies such as trade associations. We want to work with business to ensure its competitiveness and prosperity, and we recognise the crucial role trade associations play, not just in terms of developing public policies but also in helping to deliver the kind of business support initiatives, I alluded to earlier.
Our top priority has been to establish economic stability - to end the stop-go economy, which has been so damaging to smaller firms in the past. Building on that foundation of economic stability, we are taking action to improve the business environment. Our ambition is to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a business.
In December last year we announced a series of measures to cut back unnecessary business regulations, including simplifying the complex rules on fire safety and on weights and measures which baffle many businesses - and streamlining the employment tribunal system.
It was because we recognise the vital importance of small businesses to our economy and want to do all we can to help small businesses succeed, that we set up the Small Business Service, in April last year.
The SBS aims to help all small businesses realise their potential: To promote world class business support services; to help encourage enterprise across society and act as a strong voice for small firms at the heart of Government.
For the first time, we have a single national agency responsible for all the Government's small business support activities.
Another first is that there is a named individual in Government whose sole responsibility is support for small business: David Irwin, Chief Executive of the Small Business Service, who has considerable experience of working with small firms.
My Ministerial colleagues and I spend a lot of time talking to business people and trade associations. We appreciate just how much hard work and determination goes into building a company and maintaining its competitiveness in the market place. We don't underestimate the difficulties.
That is why the Government values the sterling work that is being done by both the Trade Association Forum, and the trade association movement.
The Forum - in its continuous endeavours to help the trade association sector to look at their effectiveness, and Trade Associations themselves - for responding so positively to the changes and challenges that they face in order to act effectively on behalf of their members.
Such a positive response is important, because the commercial pressures facing businesses impact on trade associations. You must be just as adept and professional to succeed and prosper, and recognise the need to develop effective partnerships.
It is encouraging to note that a number of trade associations have taken the positive step to merge and create a more effective single voice for their sector.
Co-operation and collaboration between trade associations and other representative groups, where they work together to work better, is welcomed. I am determined that the Forum will continue to receive strong support from my Department, and it is gratifying to note the close working relationship that has developed between officials in DTI, and John Murray and his colleagues at the Forum.
I hope this constructive and fruitful relationship between the Forum and Government will continue to develop and prosper, not only with DTI but other departments as well. Over the past four years, the Forum has made great strides in its contribution to the effectiveness of trade associations, particularly in dealing with Government.
Last year the Forum produced the thought provoking report on - Models of Trade Association Co-operation. And today Alastair Macdonald will present his report entitled "Modern Trade Association - Helping Good Government". I know Alastair's findings will stimulate some interesting discussions and highlight some important issues for the trade association movement to consider, because even though there is much to be proud of, there is still much to do.
I wish the Forum and its members a successful conference and every success in the future.