“In 1965 how many people had phones?” That’s what I called out in our office the other day. “Bones?” shouted back our, slightly-confused, policy supremo.
But then she used to be an archaeologist. (And is clearly a cockney rhyming slang expert too.)
For a moment I thought I was living a Two Ronnies sketch (apologies to younger readers). In fact, the point was the CBI’s 50th anniversary year, which formally kicked-off this week with the launch of a book and, of course, a really big cake.
The answer, to my surprise, is that when the CBI was founded in 1965 three quarters of people didn’t have a phone in their home (of course no one had a phone in their pocket or car and wouldn’t have until after Ernie Wise ceremonially made the UK’s first mobile phone call twenty years later).
Also in the mid-sixties half of UK households didn’t have a fridge. Just a quarter had central heating (closer to 90 per cent today). And only a quarter had a car (now it’s a quarter that haven’t).
Households typically spent a third of their disposable income in food. Now it averages ten per cent.
Over those 50 years supermarkets, PCs, smartphones, affordable clothing and furniture, hole in the wall cash machines (UK’s first one demonstrated by On the Buses’ Reg Varney in 1967 – apologies even to middle aged readers there) multi-channel TV, foreign holidays, carpets that reach to the wall and so many more things have become a completely normal part of life.
And all contributing to a standard of living my parents, who were newlyweds in 1965, and their generation couldn’t have imagined.
And my point is? Businesses, aiming to grow their market size and profits by pleasing customers, innovating, inventing and offering new and cheaper things have made a huge contribution to making that change happen. Business hasn’t got everything right over the last five decades but there is a lot to celebrate.
Richard Dodd is Communications Manager for the CBI’s Great Business Debate