Birmingham Economic Review 2018: Historic Birmingham business puts focus on productivity


This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2018 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

This post is featured in the full report and report summary here.

BHSF’s roots are firmly based in Birmingham. The organisation can trace its history back to 1873 where, as a charity, it was founded to support the health of the people of our city.

The organisation may have evolved dramatically over the last 145 years, becoming a nationwide provider of health and wellbeing, but its origins as a supporter of the people remain at the heart of the business. Simply put, without the need to support the people of Birmingham, BHSF would not exist as it does today.

Created in Birmingham, for the people of the region 

BHSF began life as the ‘Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund’. It was founded by Birmingham surgeon, Joseph Sampson Gamgee, who came to realise that if the working people of Birmingham could access free medical care it could make a huge difference to them and their families.

So was born the idea that labourers would work an extra Saturday once a year, and employers would pay the extra wages into a fund that provided medical care for those who needed it. For workers in Birmingham in the late 1800s and early 1900s, this could mean the difference between life and death.

This practice continued until the NHS was founded in 1948. No longer needing to donate funds to support the hospitals of Birmingham, the organisation evolved, but ensured that the everyday man and woman’s health and wellbeing remained at its focus.

Shaped by the philanthropic Gamgee, and thanks to the not-for-profit model the organisation is based on, BHSF is able to invest in services and innovation, listening to its customers and developing products to meet their needs. Importantly, this allows BHSF to help employers create a resilient, happy and productive workforce.

BHSF’s vision for the future is equally ambitious, as it continues to make the customer its focus, while embracing more modern technology and breaking down the barriers between BHSF and its customers and the community.

The challenges ahead

Today, BHSF’s challenges are very different from those it faced over 100 years ago. Brexit looms on the horizon, creating uncertainty for organisations. Add to that the productivity crisis currently facing the UK, and now more than ever BHSF is needed to provide support for businesses and workers, and drive home the message of focusing on employee health and wellbeing for a stronger future together. 

Worrying about Brexit will do no good

For the SMEs and micro businesses of Birmingham, BHSF included, there won’t be a seat at the top table when it comes to Brexit negotiations. While the region’s largest employers may be able to influence Brexit to some degree, for the rest of us, Brexit is going to happen much like the weather – like it or not. Businesses across the region will have to deal with what it brings, and focus on ensuring the economic wellbeing of the region.

In my opinion, the West Midlands’ productivity is more important than the impending implications of Brexit. As a region we face a colossal challenge. We are lagging behind other areas of the country, and the productivity of Britain as a whole slipped backwards in the first three months of this year. 

If we sharpened our productivity by even a few percentage points, this gained productivity would surely far out way any impact Brexit might have.

The key driver for this is re-skilling our workforce. To take an example, if autonomous vehicles mean we will no longer need bus drivers, what are we going to teach the bus drivers to do next?

We need to think about how the young person living in inner-city Birmingham can become part of the powerhouse that is the Snow Hill redevelopment, or the new Curzon Street Station, or Digbeth regeneration. We must empower the people of our region, and ensure their health and wellbeing is a priority, in the same way BHSF did back in 1873.

In order to support both business and economic growth across the region as a whole, I would urge business leaders to take matters into their own hands and ensure they take a proactive approach to worker wellbeing to further support productivity. There is much more that can be done to influence productivity – and employee wellbeing should also be at the top of the list.

The wellbeing and productivity equation

There is strong evidence to support the correlation between productivity and wellbeing. If workers are unwell, either mentally or physically, they will be less productive, and if left unsupported this can lead to presenteeism, and even an increase in sick leave.

Employee wellbeing is vital for both business success and for the region’s economy to thrive. Essentially, if employees are healthy, happy and engaged, they perform better, are more focused and efficient, and reduce costs and risk for organisations. Brexit may be a worrisome cloud on the horizon, but if we could all take a more proactive approach to the physical and mental health and wellbeing of those in our region, so much could be gained. 

I would urge business leaders across Birmingham and beyond to take a proactive approach to productivity now, by taking simple steps to improve the overall wellbeing of their own employees, if the productivity crisis is to be overcome.

Brian Hall 
Chief Commercial Officer