Businesses in Cumbria have a key role to play in addressing the UK’s “lacklustre” productivity.

That is the opinion of Barry Leahey, who has recently been appointed a national ambassador for Be the Business, a Government backed initiative that encourages businesses of all sizes to collaborate on ways to boost productivity.

His comments come after latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that productivity grew by just 0.1 per cent in the three months to September 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.

And according to the ONS productivity in manufacturing – Cumbria’s largest industry sector –fell by 1.9 per cent.

The figures were branded “lacklustre” by the Institute of Directors (IoD) who said “confidence sapping” Brexit uncertainty was holding back investment in the equipment and technology businesses needed to drive productivity growth.

Mr Leahey – who is also managing director of Playdale Playgrounds and chair of the IoD’s Cumbria branch – urged business across the county to prioritise plans to tackle the issue in 2020 and seek support from organisations such as Be the Business and Made Smarter if needed.

“Cumbria Business owners have an important role to play in addressing this national challenge – only they can take the steps necessary to improve productivity within their own businesses,” he said.

“Small practical changes to the way they do business can yield significant results.

“This time of year is a good opportunity for business owners to step back and assess their businesses and see what tweaks might improve their performance during the year ahead.

“If enough businesses make small but impactful changes, national productivity improvement will follow.”

Scores of Cumbrian businesses have already made steps to boost their productivity through the Made Smarter programme.

As reported by in-Cumbria on Tuesday, 12 small and medium sized businesses have invested almost £1 million – backed by £300,000 of match funding – through the programme, which encourages them to adopt new digital tools and technologies to boost productivity.

The scheme – which is open to SME manufacturers – provides cash, expert advice and support to adopt technologies ranging from Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Data Analytics to 3D-printing and robotics to solve challenges to their manufacturing processes.

According to Made Smarter, 80 businesses in Cumbria have approached them for support.

Meanwhile, the IoD said the latest productivity figures for the UK demanded positive action from the Government.

The organisation repeated calls for investment incentives for SMEs, for red tape to be slashed and for increased access to training opportunities to bolster workforces.

Its chief economist, Tej Parikh, said: “The UK’s lacklustre productivity performance goes on, laying bare the challenge facing the new Government.

“Talent shortages and bottlenecks in our infrastructure have constrained our ability to catalyse economic activity.

“The UK’s decade-long struggle to raise its productivity game has in turn restrained wage growth.

“The Government’s spending ambitions for our broadband and transport networks offer some hope for uplift down the line.

“But long-term capital investments must not displace efforts to jump-start improvements to our business environment today.”

ONS head of productivity Katherine Kent said the latest figures showed an underlying picture of “sustained weakness” since 2018.

“The significance of this continued weakness has now been recognised by the Royal Statistical Society, which named this poor productivity performance as its 'UK Statistic of the Decade',” she added.