Officially recognised by the French king Henry IV in April 1600, Marseilles holds the honour of the establishment of the first ever Chamber of Commerce.
The Chambers of Commerce movement expanded across France and into Belgium over the subsequent century, but it was not until 1783 when the world’s first Anglophone Chamber of Commerce was established in Glasgow. Edinburgh followed suit in 1785 and the 19th century saw the growth of the Chamber of Commerce movement throughout the rest of Scotland and Britain. Scotland, then, is the very cradle of the Chambers of Commerce movement in the English speaking world.
Two models of Chamber organisation exist within the movement worldwide. One is known as the ‘public law’ or ‘continental’ model. This is prevalent in the countries of mainland Europe their former colonies. Under this model, Chambers are regulated and often funded by the public sector, and membership is mandatory for all businesses.
Our own model originated here in Scotland, and has been replicated in the USA, across the Commonwealth and in Scandinavia. In these parts of the world, the Chamber model familiar to you has put down roots in massively diverse communities. The common thread is of businesses coming together to form a common voice, to speak to government and other stakeholders to promote business interests and to work for their communities. Crucial to the model is that membership is entirely voluntary. Chambers are entirely independent and their activities are driven by their members.
The Chambers of Commerce perform several functions for their members. They are networking forums – business clubs – facilitating the making of contacts and sharing knowledge and experience. They provide services for members such as export documentation, training, mentor matching, events, learning opportunities and business support. Members may use the chamber as a forum to offer discounted professional services to fellow members. The Chamber also provides a forum to contributing a collective business view to influencing decision making that will affect that local business community.
Chambers in Scotland and in the rest of the UK have come together to form networks where they recognise that certain Chamber functions may be more effective if undertaken on a collective basis. Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) is our network and exists to add value to the work of Chambers across Scotland. SCC manages the business mentoring scheme, provides access to discounted private healthcare schemes for members to offer as an employee benefit, supports Chambers with policy development and media expertise, and undertakes the representation duties of Chambers at a national level in Scotland. This role sees SCC working on individual Chambers’ behalf to represent the interests of Chamber members to decision makers at Scottish, UK and European level on the wide range of issues that affect the operating environment for those member businesses.
22 Chambers of Commerce across Scotland are affiliated to the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, ranging from the largest Chambers, in Scotland’s cities, to small, developing Chambers, community based and volunteer led. Each Chamber has a different balance of members’ interests to serve, and different capacity and resource to do that. All, though, have to fulfill a basic set of criteria based on management and membership structures to attain affiliation to SCC.
Some of the larger Chambers of Commerce in Scotland are also affiliated to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) – a network which operates, as the name suggests, across Britain. While in many cases, there is a distinct point of view to be promulgated on behalf of business in Scotland, there are other areas where the issues facing a business in Moray are the same, and have the same solution, as the issues facing a business in Bournemouth. However, several Chambers in Scotland do not fulfill the stricter criteria for affiliation demanded by BCC because they operate in smaller business communities; our Scottish geography makes it important that businesses in these communities have their own local voice. Scottish Chambers of Commerce will therefore work closely with our BCC colleagues in London where appropriate, to ensure that the views and needs of Chamber members north of the Border are taken into account in BCC’s work.
As a member of a Chamber of Commerce, your business is part of a worldwide movement that for centuries, has promoted the interests of local groups of businesses to strengthen communities and drive economic growth. Across the world, different cultures and economic conditions mean that Chambers must operate in different ways – indeed, the same could be said of the differences that exist within the Chambers network just in Scotland. Despite these differences, Chambers of Commerce share a core purpose, and though the methods of delivery may differ and may change over time, this purpose remains.
By Amy Dalrymple, Policy and Research Manager, Scottish Chambers of Commerce.