In this complex political climate, the role of industry trade associations is evolving, says Colin Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Wholesale Association

Since taking over as chief executive of the Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA), I’ve regularly been asked, “What is the SWA’s role? What is it doing for my company? Why should I be a member?”

It is clear trade associations have to change. Members now require a greater return on investment and expect more than just the traditional support in lobbying and legislation.

I’ve arrived at the SWA at a time of monumental change, right in the throes of Brexit. What might, or might not, happen is something of a moving feast, and at the time of writing there is still no deal on the table.

We have no control over the outcome of Brexit, but it is our job to ensure that our members are aware of, and have access to, key information on preparing for leaving the EU.

Uncertainty is a daily reality in business and our members have weathered many storms in the past, and will do so in the future. Recent developments, however, have taken it to a whole new level.

But our members still need to get on with the job in hand of running their businesses.

As a trade association, we have always strived to get members involved in all of our activities because our role is as much about sharing knowledge and advice, and helping drive business relations between members, as it is about lobbying and legislation.

Bringing members, suppliers and the wider industry together at various events is just one way of doing this.

Feedback from members – wholesalers and suppliers – tells the SWA that they greatly value the networking aspect of events such as conferences and awards initiatives.

Our next networking event, at Hampden Park in Glasgow on 28 March, will unveil plans for our investment in a new Training Academy, which is designed to create a career pathway for employees within the wholesale industry.

This is a prime example of how trade associations need to listen to their members. Ask them they what they want, and respond accordingly.

The SWA has been highly focused on training in recent years, but we need to move it to the next level if we are to ensure that our industry improves skills and nurtures talent within Scottish wholesale.

All of this links in to our principles of collaboration, consultation and communication, which brings me back to the need to be aware of ever-changing legislation and regulation. In Scotland, we have had swathes of legislation to contend with in recent years – much of it good, it has to be said, but some of it unnecessary and, frankly, cumbersome for our members to deal with.

Increasingly, the role of the SWA – and other trade associations – is evolving. It has always been to make sure our industry’s voice is heard, but that voice now needs to be louder so that the people who shape policy hear us loud and clear, and are always aware of our members’ views and concerns.

More recent opinion: Fresh food is still a concern in the wholesale industry


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