Professional & Business Services Council

Letter to Secretary of State for International Trade on UK-India trade

The PBSC, along with professional bodies and trade associations, have written to the Secretary of State for International Trade, the Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, to urge the UK Government and its negotiators to hold out for a commercial and comprehensive trade deal with India. See more detail in our letter here: Letter to DIT SoS UK-India FTA

The PBSC to work with the new centre for Inclusive Trade Policy

The PBSC welcomes the creation of the Centre for Inclusive Trade Policy and looks forward to working with the new centre as a partner.


Skills for Future Success

Skills for Future Success

The ‘Skills for Future Success’ report sets out how financial, professional and business services can address skills challenges to deliver recovery and growth in UK regions and nations

The report, from the Professional & Business Services Council and the Financial Services Skills Commission, found almost one-third of sector employers reporting skills shortages resulting in vacancies, with thousands of critical roles in areas like data and technology going unfilled.

The research, supported by Capgemini, City of London Corporation, PwC, and TheCityUK, also found firms reporting increased operating costs and staff workload as a result of skills challenges.

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Skills shortages have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with automation, digitisation, globalisation and changing workforce demographics all contributing to the challenge. This has resulted in new skills needs, encompassing technology, interpersonal skills and industry knowledge.

The report calls for employers, Government, and education providers to seize new opportunities for the upskilling and reskilling of the UK workforce. It also suggests more detailed skills forecasting is necessary to understand the specific skills and scale required for emerging areas like low carbon services. Failure to act could leave the UK losing out to its global competitors.

These trends are significant as financial, professional and business services are a major employer and recruiter – providing 5.5m jobs across the UK and hiring nearly 20% of graduates entering the UK labour market each year. Almost three quarters (73%) of FPBS jobs are located outside London and the sector accounts for one in seven of all jobs outside the capital.

The report finds that many regional firms face more acute skills challenges, especially SMEs that struggle to recruit highly skilled employees and lack strong collaborations between employers, local government, and education providers. On the other hand, trends show an increasing regional presence, with 43% of surveyed employers consolidating their presence in a few strategic hubs across the UK.

While some businesses and education providers are rising to meet the skills challenges, more action is needed to ensure the sector, regions and nations are prepared for the future. The report recommends an eight-point plan, focused on deepening the pool of talent in the regions and nations and benefiting firms of all sizes:

  1. Building a lifelong learning culture across the sector
  2. Increasing the supply of tech skills and digital literacy across the sector and wider economy
  3. Ensuring that efforts to build a skilled workforce are underpinned by a commitment to diversity and inclusion
  4. Enhancing strategic workforce planning capabilities across the sector to identify future skills needs
  5. Supporting mid-career retraining through an employer-led skills brokerage service and clearer pathways into the sector
  6. Attracting and retaining highly skilled talent across the regions through strengthening the talent pipeline and locating senior roles in regions
  7. Boosting the availability of skills across the regions through strategic collaborations between employers, education providers, and regional government
  8. Developing regional centres of specialisation, building on clusters that already exist

Thank you to everyone who has attended roundtables and interviews and input to this work.

Response to Lord Grimstone’s open letter, from Nick Owen and Alan Belfield


17 May 2021

Dear Lord Grimstone,

On behalf of the Professional & Business Services Council (PBSC), as the two business co-Chairs (outgoing and incoming) we warmly welcome your recent letter to those in the Professional and Business Services (PBS) Sector.

From Nick Owen – Deloitte:

Comprised of a diverse and innovative range of subsectors, the membership of the PBSC has expanded significantly during my tenure as industry co-chair, and I believe we have built a proactive and collaborative Council with sector leaders represented from across PBS firms, Professional Bodies and Trade Associations. The sector has navigated through some significant disruption, during which the PBSC has sought to inform and challenge the government, ensuring that the sector’s priorities have been heard, as well as the priorities of our broader client base within UK industry.

Through the PBSC, we have developed a better mutual understanding with the government on the needs of the sector, the economy and the future of work. The dedicated working groups have evolved with the times, working with government on some of the UK’s most pressing issues, such as EU Exit and the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included technical support on services provisions for future trade negotiations, and evidence-based challenge to recognise the importance of global talent. With talent at the heart of what we do, the need for greater social inclusion and new skills and capabilities within the sector is of critical importance to its future, and we can look forward to developing an action plan from the PBS Future Skills research following its launch in June. In addition, our work with HMT and BEIS on socio-economic diversity and progression over the next year will have a significant bearing on diversity and inclusion at a senior level.

Most recently, the sector has looked to play its part in supporting the UK’s COVID-19 response. As a sector we are incredibly proud of so many of our people who are providing close support to the critical government-led national efforts (such as the Nightingale hospitals, and pooling skills to support the cross-industry Ventilator Challenge UK consortium). Additionally, we provided sector-side input to the government throughout the pandemic on the challenges facing all businesses and the type of economic regulatory easements that might support the economy over the long term. The sector has also been providing professional advice to our clients navigating these uncertain times and looking towards recovery and growth.

It’s been an honour to have held the position of business co-Chair and I would like to thank my fellow Council members for all their support over the past five years. I will be handing over the business-side Chair to Alan, who knows the PBSC extremely well, and have no doubt he will to take the Council from strength to strength over the coming years.

Alan Belfield – Arup:

Although my predecessor, Nick, leaves a huge gap to fill, we have a vibrant Council, an evolving Steering Committee, active Working Groups and a solid relationship with government. My time at Arup has given me a strong insight to the challenges the country needs to tackle, particularly around the path to Net Zero, regional inequalities, export growth and ensuring responsible business is a binding thread throughout everything the sector does.

As the UK economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognise the intent behind the government’s Plan for Growth and we believe our priorities for the coming year on Trade, Levelling Up, Social Mobility and Climate Change will support this plan. However, as the past year has shown, we face unprecedented change and a rapidly evolving global landscape. In order to succeed and build upon our partnership, we will need flexibility and adaptability from all members of the PBSC and government.


Trade in services represent a major opportunity with the sector’s professional standards in particular representing a soft power multiplier in promoting UK interests. We believe the government needs to sustain, expand and champion PBS as part of Global Britain, and our trade group will be focusing on trade promotion and PBS’ role in DIT’s Export Strategy in support of this.

Levelling Up

The PBSC also continues to support the government’s levelling up agenda. We recognise that COVID-19 has made the need to tackle the social and economic disparities across the UK ever more pressing, and we are committed to supporting wherever we can.

Social Mobility

As your letter mentioned, the strong performance in the Social Mobility Index demonstrates how much social mobility has been a major sector focus over the past ten years, with recruiting methods changing and Diversity & Inclusion programmes widespread across the sector. However, despite this strong record, we recognise we still have further to go ourselves. There is much that needs to be done across the UK, particularly given the pandemic’s impact on youth employment, and a need for us to lead by example. This is why the PBSC has set up a new group to focus exclusively on how we can improve access and progression within the sector and will also be providing close support to the new BEIS/HMT Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce.

Climate Change

One of the most pressing issues of our time, the PBSC will be working on how it can support the drive to Net Zero carbon emissions and where it can channel its strengths as a leading innovative sector on the wider climate agenda at COP26 and beyond.

With our historic role in developing talent – graduates, apprenticeships and experienced hires – into highly skilled employees, our ability to innovate and use new technologies to solve complex problems, the PBS sector is a major UK success story. However, there is still much further for the sector to go. The Council has a key role to play, both in extending a voice to the key issues and amplifying the great range of initiatives already ongoing across the sector to ensure good practice can be passed on. We know that the PBSC brand also needs greater communication and we will be increasing our efforts to help showcase who we are and what we do.

As a Council we will continue to support the government wherever we can and challenge where we believe further focus is needed, and I look forward to working in partnership with government as we look to rebuild an economy and society that is better and fairer.

Kind regards,


Nick Owen Alan Belfield
UK Chair, Deloitte Chair, Arup


Letter from Lord Grimstone to the PBS sector, published 13 May 2021.

To the Professional and Business Services (PBS) sector.

The PBS sector is one of the largest and most successful sectors in the UK. From accountants to architects, lawyers to engineers, recruitment to advertising, admin to consultants – our PBS sector delivers crucial advice and support services that enable businesses, both large and small, and in every region, to become more productive, profitable and competitive. The professionalism demonstrated in every corner of the sector is what makes it world renowned and a vital pillar of UK prosperity.

The sector has a strong track record for growth. From 2000 to 2019, growth in PBS has been significant and outperformed that of the UK economy as a whole. The PBS sector generated £217 billion of Gross Value Added in 2020, which was 12% of the UK total. The sector represents 1-in-7 jobs across the country with two-thirds of those jobs outside of London and the South East.

Internationally, the sector has also excelled. Since 2000, exports of PBS have grown from £28bn to roughly £111bn in 2019. PBS businesses now provide a third of the UK’s total services exports and the UK is second only to the US as the greatest exporter of PBS in the world.

The sector has overcome adversity in the past, but none has proved to be greater than the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic activity in the sector as a whole fell by 20% last year, before recovering to being down 7%. Although many have adapted to new and innovative ways of delivering their services and supported their clients through this adversity, the sector has nevertheless suffered, with business generation and the health and wellbeing of its employees being truly tested.

However, through the determination and tenacity demonstrated by the UK’s businesses and citizens, coupled with the success of the government’s vaccination programme, there is reason to be optimistic. Our plan for growth sets out how government will build back better, supporting economic growth in the UK post Covid through the three pillars of infrastructure, innovation and skills.

We know that skills and talent are the foundation of the PBS sector. They go to the heart of the professionalism that the sector is world-renowned for. To maintain this standing, PBS businesses need to be able to attract and support talent from a wide range of backgrounds and importantly understand how businesses are evolving and what skills will be required in the future.

Work is underway to meet this challenge. We have just introduced the Professional Qualifications (PQ) Bill to Parliament on 12 May. This will establish an effective regulatory framework to support our regulated professions to attract and retain the skills they need to deliver the vital services on which we rely, whilst giving them the independence to ensure our high professional standards are maintained.

I also welcome the PBS and Financial Services Regions and Nations Future Skills Research that the sector is leading and look forward to the findings to be published in June. Building on the seismic technological shifts that we have seen in the sector through material advances in areas such as LawTech, with the right skills and talent the sector will be ideally positioned to support the country in building back better.

Eight out of the top ten firms on the Social Mobility Employer Index are PBS firms but we recognise that more can be done. The government commissioned Soci0-economic Diversity Taskforce, led by City of London Corporation, will provide much needed evidence on what we can do to progress and retain talent across all backgrounds.

The PBS Council (PBSC) that I co-chair is a great demonstration of how government and industry can work together. By combining the efforts of professional bodies, trade associations and individual businesses, each in their own unique way rooted in the professionalism of the sector, the Council has worked in partnership with government to help address the challenges we have faced and look to seize the opportunities that are in front of us. Through its dedicated working groups, it will provide a pivotal role in supporting many of the plan for growth objectives, such as levelling up, supporting a Global Britain and delivering Net Zero.

Levelling up
While London is an important national and global hub, the sector is represented throughout the nations and regions of the UK. The sector’s presence in leading regional centres, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh, will be critical to supporting local businesses and economic growth.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the sector has successfully increased its use of digital tools and adopted more flexible models that offer an opportunity to further spread the value, jobs and expertise that the PBS sector can bring to a local economy. The sector has already supported many other businesses to adapt to these new ways of working and with many PBS firms looking to become more location agnostic, the sector has a fantastic opportunity to become a leader in this space.

Government also has an ambitious plan to bolster the Department of International Trade’s presence across the UK, ensuring that every region and nation feels the tangible benefits of our trade agenda. The recently created Office for Investment also has levelling up at the core of its mission; unlocking projects which are strategically important for the UK.

Global Britain
The PBS sector and its exports are vital for Global Britain. Industry representatives have and will continue to play an important role in advising government on the UK’s new independent trade policy and ensuring that policies develop in line with the needs of the sector. This includes the ongoing Free Trade Agreements with our trading partners that now cover almost £891 billion of trade, the development of our refreshed Export Strategy, and role-modelling the benefits of free and fair trade at the World Trade Organization. The sector also plays a vital role in providing the specialist advice and support essential to businesses of all sectors across the UK to trade overseas.Where businesses face challenges around transitioning to our new position outside of the EU, the PBS Council and the trade and professional bodies in particular, have provided vital support and guidance to their members and clients. The sector’s views have also enabled government to focus transition guidance on the areas which matter most to businesses. For instance, government recently published enhanced guidance on business travel to EU Member States to provide a better understanding of the visa and work permit routes available.

Looking beyond transition, export growth and trade promotion will be key priorities for government and sector cooperation.

Our professions and professionalism are a national asset that are critical to our service exports. They set a global gold standard and a reason for others to do business with the UK. The PQ Bill will facilitate the recognition of professional qualifications to meet the needs of all parts of the UK as well as support our professionals to deliver services in overseas markets. We will therefore continue to seek reciprocal recognition arrangements with international partners as part of our ambitious global trade agenda and equip regulators with the ability to pursue recognition arrangements where they can’t do so already.

This government recognises that our regulators and devolved administrations must have the autonomy to set the standard required to practise in the UK, ensuring quality and public safety. I am committed to giving them the freedom to do so but will also support them in securing these recognition arrangements when needed, including through guidance published this week.

Finally, the government’s proposed reforms to audit and corporate governance will also help the UK remain a premier global centre for investment by further boosting confidence in PBS businesses and their work.

Government has set ambitious Net-Zero goals and PBS is vital to achieving them. Businesses, large and small, need support in making their business processes more environmentally friendly, in identifying sustainable investment opportunities and in reporting on their net-zero commitments. This is part of the future for the PBS sector.

Many have already answered this call either by developing environmental services, reducing their own carbon footprint or signing up to pledges like the Race to Zero. The Advertising Association for example has launched Ad Net Zero with the aim of achieving net zero carbon emissions in advertising by the end of 2030.

Government has acted as well. Among other things, we recently published a consultation on proposals for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. With COP26 taking place later this year, the UK can share its experience with the rest of the world.

The PBSC has been fundamental in ensuring the sector’s interests are heard and understood. My industry co-chair Nick Owen, UK Chair of Deloitte, is stepping down soon, and I want to thank him for the work he and the Council have delivered over the past few years. Nick has been a truly great leader and his energy and enthusiasm have contributed massively to the Council’s work.

The scene is set for recovery and growth. Together, we can ensure the continued success of the PBS sector throughout the UK and in the world. I therefore look forward to continuing our partnership with the new PBSC Chair Alan Belfield, Chair of ARUP, to agree new milestones and deliver our shared priorities, focussed on those areas which will help deliver growth and prosperity not only to the PBS sector but to the UK economy as a whole.

Very best wishes
Lord Gerry Grimstone, Minister for Investment

Alan Belfield succeeds Nick Owen as PBSC business chair