THE BLOG
27/11/2013 10:40 GMT | Updated 26/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Does It Make the Bike Go Faster? How a Strategy of Marginal Gains Can Sustain Growth

Occasionally challenges in life can be solved by a stroke of genius - a superhuman effort, a silver bullet. More often, the solution to the thorniest problems is a raft of measures. Chris Froome's Tour de France victory wasn't down to a special bike, superhuman lung capacity or a secret training strategy. According to his coach, Sir David Brailsford, it was down to an "aggregation of marginal gains" - small improvements that collectively boosted performance. Like a cyclist changing up a gear, our latest Business Confidence Monitor forecasts Q4 growth at 1.3%; can a similar "marginal gains" strategy help sustain and build upon the UK's fledgling economic recovery?

The lessons from cycling apply particularly well to UK mid-market companies, which account for 34,100 businesses, 4.2 million jobs and are set to contribute £305bn to UK GDP in 2013. Grant Thornton is conducting a series of summits with the leaders of these mid-market businesses, or 'Agents of Growth', from whom are gleaning what 'marginal gains' they feel will expedite their growth trajectories. We are already hearing from there and elsewhere, the beginnings of what a manifesto of incremental improvements for sustaining the recovery, might contain.

Exports are one area which requires measures for growth; logistics costs, export insurance, paperwork such as licenses often delay growing businesses. Specific, targeted measures, like creating forums for companies to share costs and find partners shipping to the same markets and speeding up the export licence process, represent significant improvements.

Steps to incentivising innovation like the R&D tax credit and Patent Box scheme are gathering momentum for businesses of all sizes, but to keep pace with other countries, education to encourage more businesses to benefit from the scheme would help. Industries such as video gaming, life sciences and engineering have long development cycles and targeted tax relief on research would assist them, while start-ups should be given relief on non-cash incentives such as shares to attract talent.

Overseas talent has a part to play -Chris Froome, a key British cycling asset, was born in Kenya. The government has recently acknowledged the role foreigners play in our economy by announcing measures to fast-track the visas of the most senior business people from Asia and elsewhere. But these are not the only type of people who must be allowed to enter the country for the benefit of the economy; skills and market-knowledge are vital commodities, so fast-tracking international specialists like scientists and engineers would boost UK industries in those recruitment pinch-points.

While London is vital to the economy, regional projects should be nurtured; as part of the City Deals Initiative, Manchester proposed an 'earn-back' model that rewards the City for successful regeneration and could be applied elsewhere. In the West Midlands, the 'UK Central' scheme to attract investment based around the international airport, proposed high speed rail station and NEC is another exciting idea that will support regional growth.

Transport projects like the London Gateway Port will help exports, but must be linked to an upgraded road and rail network. Where appropriate, private sector firms could be contracted for asset management and repairs - taking the strain from local and central government. If investment in roads is directly combined with fuel duty relief, the costs that hauliers pass on will be reduced and this will quickly and positively impact manufacturers' ability to export.

A recurring theme is planning; industry wants to see stable plans that are seen through to fruition so investors are reassured. The economics lesson from cycling is that to move up a gear, it pays to view the wheels of business in the round and concentrate on incremental gains that make the bike go faster.