Just over a year ago perhaps only our most technically savvy members might have wondered whether a meeting such as this could possibly have been held online. The business world has however changed since 14 March, when the Polish government announced the Covid-19 lockdown. The Chamber adapted quickly and efficiently to new ways of working, to the New Normal, but we are gearing up for the next leap forward: going way further digital. That means investments in a new CRM system, an improved Contact Magazine Online, new digital tools (hardware and software) and a greater reach for our B2B communication channels for our members to network with ever-broader target groups.
Despite the many challenges to doing business in Poland and the UK, Chamber membership is only marginally down on 2018 with 281 members. We are very pleased to welcome a new Patron - Castorama Polska, which joined our other five Patrons: Aviva, HSBC Polska, PwC Polska, Sage and Tesco Polska. We thank our Patrons for their loyal support.
Of course, the global pandemic is not the only problem we face. The continued uncertainty around Brexit plagues planning and casts doubt over investment intentions. We are now entering the fifth year since the fateful referendum of June 2016, and it is still unclear as to whether the UK will manage to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU by the end of this year, or whether it will find itself shut out in the cold and having to trade on the basis of WTO rules. And we must hope that there won’t be a second, deadlier wave of Covid-19 happening just as the UK leaves the transition period.
The BPCC, as a non-governmental organisation reporting to its members who are in effect its shareholders, has at its core its work on behalf of UK investors in Poland. We continue to help our members engage with the Polish authorities at national and regional level, through our own policy work and as an active member of the International Group of Chambers of Commerce (IGCC) in Poland. A recent example of the successful engagement of the IGCC was its role in ensuring that foreign investors present in Poland were not treated unfairly by their exclusion from the Anti-Covid Shield measures implemented by the Polish government.
We continue to support British trade and investment in Poland well through our numerous engagements with the team at the British Embassy. Our relationship with the Polish Embassy in London is working equally well, and mirrors our bilateral status supporting the flow of trade and investment into the UK.
Our policy work has to be divided into two parts – everything that happened pre-Covid-19, and today’s new business reality. The biggest issue facing employers in Poland had been recruiting and retaining staff. With unemployment at a historic low (in February, Poland had the second-lowest unemployment in the EU, according to Eurostat), our members were facing ever-greater difficulties with finding and keeping talented employees. The BPCC’s answer to this was to organise a five-city roadshow, together with its members, ABC London Group, Dehora, Kinnarps, Linklaters and The Wellness Institute, to present ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ solutions to HR headaches. A survey of participants was conducted at each leg of the roadshow, and the results were published at an event held in London this January.
The BPCC has long maintained the importance of manufacturing to any economy’s health; last year we visited our members’ factories, mostly located in the south of Poland, holding events of interest to all manufacturers regardless of sector. We focused on optimisation of energy use, supply chains and automation, as well as the perennial problem of HR in an employees’ job market.
Real estate and construction have been notable drivers of Poland’s economic growth over the years, and the BPCC’s cycle of quarterly breakfasts bringing developers, contractors, engineers and architects together with real-estate consultants was broadened to include members of the Scandinavian Chamber of Commerce. Regional real-estate events were also held across Poland’s regions, notably Wrocław and Poznań.
Last year saw the continuation of the roll-out of the Polish government’s Employee Capital Plans to medium-sized and smaller firms. For our members from the financial services sector with experience in the UK’s similar auto-enrolment scheme, this has been a great opportunity. The BPCC has worked closely with firms like Aviva to organise seminars across Poland to get the message to employers at the local level.
Where the return justifies the investment, the Chamber engages in government-led initiatives. In the last year we participated in two very high-profile government events – the Krynica Forum held in early September last year, and the Belvedere Forum held in London this February. Both brought together business, the British and Polish governments, to discuss the nature of the future relationship between the two countries after Brexit.
Looking at membership activities; this area is directly managed by Dorota Kierbiedź, our membership director with 23 years of experience at the Chamber. In terms of various events, policy group meetings and training activities, in the nine months between last year’s AGM and the start of the lockdown, we have delivered 120 physical events in Warsaw, Wrocław, Krakow, Poznań and London (conferences, seminars and workshops, as well as 20 purely networking events that included the ever-popular Burns Supper, the most recent one being held in Wrocław; the International Oktoberfest and Christmas events in Warsaw. However, in the three and half months since the start of lockdown, we have managed to promote 177 webinars! This gives an idea of the scale and reach that webinars offer; our job going forward will be to optimise online events technically and in terms of content and format to remain as professional and relevant to business as possible.
I mentioned the IGCC and its powerful voice on behalf of the foreign investor community in Poland – we are a committed member of this group, now 16 chambers strong. On 1 July 2019 the BPCC took over the IGCC’s rotating presidency, until the end of last year, focusing on HR and taxation issues. The finale of our Presidency was an investors’ briefing entitled Poland’s Performance in the 2020 Doing Business Report, delivered jointly with the World Bank and PwC.
We are also one of 60 British chambers of commerce outside of the UK, now functioning within a global network, linked back to the UK and the BCC with 53 accredited UK regional chambers that form the British Chambers of Commerce, the largest organisation representing British business. The BCC’s global network of chambers takes over from where COBCOE (the former Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe, now subsumed into the BCC), left off. It links the BPCC, its opposite numbers throughout the world with around 50,000 businesses across the UK, in a truly global network.
As I mentioned, the BPCC has adapted well to the ‘new normal’ using online communication tools to deliver quality content, business insights and matchmaking to a greater target audience than ever before. As soon as the lockdown began, the BPCC’s media quickly responded with the creation of a dedicated Covid-19 section on the portal, on which members could share best practice and legal expertise at a time of widespread uncertainty as to what steps should be taken. The first and second issue of Contact Magazine Online published since the start of the pandemic both focused on our members’ responses and forecasts for coping with the new normal.
Looking at the people who make the Chamber tick - our team currently has six permanent staff – Paweł Siwecki, Dorota Kierbiedź, Ilona Chodorowska, Michael Dembinski, Kuba Piegat and Paulina Sierańska. Ilona Chodorowska has an expanded regional role working from Wrocław covering the whole of Western Poland from Szczecin to Silesia. Ilona’s office in Wrocław will be bolstered next year with a permanent staff member supporting her work. David Buckle, our UK-based board member supports and assists UK companies and the Polish Embassy in London. I would like to say a very well-deserved thank-you to the team
Administration and premises
The BPCC’s Warsaw HQ on ul. Zielna 37 will continue to serve us until 22 November 2020. As we are watching the cost base, a new location may be considered.
As many of you will know Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Poland will be leaving Poland very shortly to take up a post in the UK. On behalf of the Chamber I would like to thank Jonathan Knott for our cooperation and wish him bon voyage and every success in his new post.