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Suffolk chiefs voice plans to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace and avenge £4 billion productivity gap

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Plans have been voiced by business, health and public sector chiefs in Suffolk to promote health and wellbeing in work and plug the county’s £4 billion productivity gap.

Data presented to Suffolk’s Health and Wellbeing Board indicated that Suffolk's productivity rate was 10% lower than the UK average, which if addressed could boost annual gross value by an additional £4bn.

That figure was reflected in lower wages in Suffolk, where a full time worker average of £537.30 per week compares to £571.10 in England or £590.30 for the East of England.

Endeavour House. Picture: Suffolk County County
Endeavour House. Picture: Suffolk County County

Office for National Statistics data found that 30.5% of Suffolk’s ‘economically inactive’ population were long term sick, compared with 22% for the East of England.

While the lower productivity rate is a historic feature of the county, business chiefs have voiced a plan to improve that, and said there was a ‘causal relationship between health and wellbeing issues and the county’s productivity challenge’.

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has outlined a series of plans, including a reinvigorated version of its Improving Workplace Health (IWH) pilot scheme in small businesses which looked at skills development and opportunities, an expanded IWH programme specifically for the health of business owners, best practice sharing with supply chains and customer firms, additional research, and work to identify sectors in need of targeted support.

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, told the board: “Over the last 18 months health and wellbeing has elevated in business’s minds for obvious reasons – particularly around the productivity conundrum and particularly around employee welfare.

“The business community has always known about productivity and health and wellbeing issues but it is interesting that the business community is looking to reset because it is realising that by improving health and wellbeing it is going to effect productivity more positively.

“The agenda of health and wellbeing in the workplace is finally being recognised more as a serious business concern than perhaps it has been in the past. That is not a criticism, that is a good thing.”

In addition, the Health and Wellbeing Board has agreed to work alongside the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to build on and create new programmes supporting the health and wellbeing of workers.

It comes as the LEP is working on a Norfolk and Suffolk economic renewal plan up to 2036, due to be published in January, which will take into consideration changes in recent years such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, as well as other key areas such as climate change and increasingly digital workstreams.

That plan will also set out the need to invest in health and wellbeing support.

The LEP said that despite higher than average employment levels in the two counties there were not enough people to fill jobs, particularly in key sectors locally such as health and social care, tourism and hospitality and agri-food.

Among key health and wellbeing drivers were areas such as good skills development and progression, flexible working patterns for those who need them, a decent living wage and good working conditions.

Natasha Waller, skills manager at New Anglia LEP, said: “The pandemic has clearly shown health and wellbeing is clearly linked with the workforce and economy’s heath as an entirety.

“Ill health has an overall detrimental impact on our economic growth and productivity.

“So by tackling levels of ill health in the workforce and those seeking to access employment, we can secure tangible economic growth so it is good for everyone.”

Read more: All the latest news from Suffolk