How can productivity drive business success and economic recovery?

In Productivity puzzles, a new podcast series brought to you by Capita and The Productivity Institute, Bart van Ark, Professor of Productivity Studies at the University of Manchester and managing director of the Productivity Institute brings together leading minds from the UK and abroad to discuss how to improve productivity for almost everything.

Why is productivity in the UK lower than many other countries, and why is there such a difference in productivity across the regions and devolved nations? The series will share insights from the latest research on smart policies and effective business strategies to improve productivity, evaluate new initiatives from government and business and find out how this will drive prosperity, wellbeing and inclusive sustainable growth.

Episode 20 – The Productivity Policy Agenda: Short-Term Priorities and Long-Term Commitments

Should the next Prime Minister embrace productivity as a cornerstone of the policy agenda for the new UK government in September? Can it help to get us through the economic winter ahead of us, and onto a path of sustained recovery? What policies are most critical, what should be continued, strengthened or perhaps stopped?

The final episode of Season 1 of Productivity Puzzles looks at the policy agenda for the new government, with discussion on the key elements that will help productivity to recover.

In the short-term, what role does productivity have in dealing with the current problems of rising cost and shortages of labour and energy? Over the long-term, what should the government focus on to address the issues in a fundamental way?

Host Professor Bart van Ark is joined by:

  • Diane Coyle, Co-director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge
  • Catherine Mann, External member of the Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England
  • Adrian Pabst, Deputy Director at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR)


Listen now ↓

Episode 19 – Making Public Sector Productivity Practical

Despite showing slow productivity growth over the past decade, the public sector has performed better than the private sector and there is quite a bit of scope for further improvement. This instalment of Productivity Puzzles delves into how and why productivity could grow in the public sector.

This episode is a prelude to the publication of the Making Public Sector Productivity Practical report, which is soon to be released by The Productivity Institute and Capita. You can pre-register to access the report on Capita’s website:

Host Professor Bart van Ark is joined by:

  • Paul Abraham, Managing Director & Client Partner at Capita Public Service
  • Stephen Aldridge, Chief Economist and Director of Analysis and Data at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
  • Anna Smart, Systems Thinking/Organisational Design Lead at London Borough of Camden


Listen now ↓

Episode 18 – Productivity and well-being

How can productivity benefit not just business and the economy, but also ourselves? What does it take for a society to grow productivity and raise well-being? Can digital technology make us happier, as well as more productive?

In this episode, we look at which investments are needed to create more well-being and what role social factors, such as trust, play in raising productivity and well-being. The discussion is varied, with conversations about how we measure well-being effectively and what further data is needed to make informed choices, as well as a debate on whether digital technology has a positive impact on our lives and on our productivity as a whole.

Host Professor Bart van Ark is joined by:

  • Conal Smith, Senior Economist at the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington
  • Tim Hazledine, Professor of Economics at the University of Auckland Business School (retired)
  • Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge


Listen now ↓

Episode 17 – The Wales Productivity Challenge

Did you know that the manufacturing sector in Wales accounts for a larger share of the economy than elsewhere in the UK? That the Welsh economy is also developing exciting new activities in arts and culture and tackling the difficult balancing act between raising productivity and improving health and well-being head on?

In this episode, we take a deep dive into the productivity performance of Wales and how it stacks up against the rest of the UK. We’ll discuss the key drivers, sectors and resources as well differences between large and small businesses and regions. There is also an interesting question on how productivity fits in with the Welsh Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and the parallels between Net Zero and productivity growth.

Listen now ↓

Episode 16: Can productivity rescue the global economic recovery?

Are economies making the most of their human and material resources? Through most of modern history, we've assumed that progress in technology and efficiency will make every person employed and our work more productive over time. Is this a hopeful trend? Is it still holding true? Will it hold true throughout the 21st Century?

This special episode of Productivity Puzzles has been produced in conjunction with The Conference Board, a non-profit business membership and research group organisation based in New York. For a change, The Productivity Institute’s Managing Director Bart van Ark is not hosting, but is instead being interviewed about global productivity by The Conference Board’s CEO, Steve Odland.

The topics covered in this episode include globalisation, the role of governments in facilitating productive companies, the diffusion of technology, labour shortages and whether productivity growth is linear.

Our guests:

  • Steve Odland, CEO of The Conference Board
  • Bart van Ark, Managing Director of the Productivity Institute and Professor of Productivity Studies at the Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester

For more information on the topic: The Conference Board, Global Labor Productivity 2022: Stagnating, But Still Above Prepandemic Levels, 2022

Episode 15: Restarting the Future: How Intangibles Can Fuel Productivity

Why has economic growth slowed down? Have we already exhausted the benefits from the digital revolution? Are the trusted institutions of the 20th century now failing in the investments most needed for future growth in productivity?

This episode takes a deep dive into the book Restarting the Future: How to Fix the Intangible Economy, which provides a new explanation for why growth has slowed and why we need a reset of institutions and policies. The topics covered include R&D, software, design, training, reputation & branding and business processes.

Intangible capital offers the same characteristic as tangible capital of providing value over time, but it is not something you can touch and feel. It includes many assets that are critical to modern businesses, such as data, software and R&D. Crucially, intangibles are frequently characterised by scalability, sunkenness, spillovers and synergies.

Episode 14: Staying productive in uncertain times

How do we respond to uncertainties that crises create? Are they holding us back in investing, hiring and innovating? Or can crises make us more agile and resilient, perhaps even more creative and inventive? How do we balance risks and opportunities? And what might that mean for productivity? The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the renewed level of geopolitical uncertainty from the war in Ukraine will upset our economies, businesses, jobs and living standards for years to come.

Host Bart van Ark is joined by three experts in economic and business forecasting to discuss how global political and economic uncertainty affects productivity and what we can do to respond.

Episode 13: New business formation and productivity

Why do we need new firms? How important is business creation for employment and productivity? How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the churning of businesses? In this episode of Productivity Puzzles, we discuss business dynamism, which is about the birth, growth and decline of businesses, also called churning. The evidence shows that churning is good for the creation of new jobs, for providing opportunities for firm, industries and regions to invest and grow, and a key driver of productivity.

Host Bart van Ark is joined by:

  • Anthony Impey, CEO of Be The Business, an independent not-for-profit organisation helping small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) boost their performance
  • Clare Elsby, Head of People and Culture at Elsby & Co, an accountancy firm specialised in the SME market
  • Jakob Schneebacher from the Office for National Statistics

    Listen now ↓

Episode 12 : The Links between Productivity and Pay

Do productivity gains always end up in our pockets in terms of better pay? In this episode, we’ve invited scholars from the US, Canada and the UK to discuss their recent research, published in the International Productivity Monitor, which suggests productivity doesn't always make everyone better off. We are going to explore how and why the links between productivity and pay have changed over time, look at the key drivers and discuss what can be done about it. And if productivity doesn’t always lead to wage growth, what happens if that changes - are companies that pay better likely to become more productive? Let’s find out. Our guests are:

  • Anna Stansbury, Assistant Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
  • Larry Mishel, a distinguished fellow at Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC.
  • Andreas Teichgräber, a researcher at the Centre Economic Performance at London School of Economics, and a member of the Programme on Innovation and Diffusion (POID).

Episode 11: Levelling up and productivity: the role of industrial policy, institutions and fiscal mechanisms

The government introduced its Levelling Up agenda to the UK as part of its 2019 election manifesto and a white paper on the subject is expected soon. There have been many suggestions in recent months on what to do to advance economic and social progress in UK-wide regions and cities, and how to reduce inequalities between places and groups in the population.

In this episode, we’ve stepped back a bit from those critical needs and asked ourselves the questions of how policy, institutions and fiscal mechanisms can become less centralised, better coordinated and more long-term oriented.

Host Bart van Ark talks with three of The Productivity Institute’s thematic leads - Professors Diane Coyle, Andy Westwood and Philip McCann - to discuss their recent research on Levelling Up in relation to UK industrial policy, local growth and fiscal implications of governance devolution. Listen now ↓

Episode 10: Health and productivity in the workplace

Are healthy workers productive workers? And if so, why do companies still struggle to put health and well-being at the centre of good business performance? And how can this be changed?

In this episode, host Bart van Ark is joined by Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Alliance Manchester Business School. He’s a world leading expert on workers’ health and well-being and also President of the Chartered Institute of Personal Development in the UK. They discuss the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on health and productivity, the challenges of new ways of working and why the health and well-being of a workforce should be a more central business imperative. Listen now ↓

Episode 9: Can labour shortages help raise productivity?

How do supermarkets keep their shelves stocked for Christmas? Can we be sure our favourite restaurant will stay open? Does the NHS have the staff to reduce ever-growing waiting lists? Can productivity growth help to face the challenges of rising labour shortages in the UK economy? 

In this episode, we’re taking a deep dive into the issue of an increased shortage of workers in our economy - especially so-called “skilled blue collar workers”. Host Bart van Ark is joined by Yael Selfin, a Partner and Chief Economist at KPMG; Anthony Rafferty, Professor in Employment Studies and Managing Director of the Work and Equalities Institute at The University of Manchester; and Tony Venables, Professor of Economics and the Research Director at The Productivity Institute.

Together they’ll discuss whether the current labour shortages are something the UK could have been better prepared for - even before the Covid-19 pandemic - and ask if the current problems could actually be the trigger to move to a world of higher wages, better skills and higher productivity. Listen now ↓

Episode 8: How to Transform Performance?

How can companies transform their business through becoming more productive? What are the things stopping us doing this? What simple practical techniques are there to restore and increase productivity? In short, what is practical productivity? Host Bart van Ark is joined by Professor Mark Logan from the University of Glasgow, formerly of Skyscanner, Professor Mark Hart, an expert in entrepreneurship, enterprise and small business from Aston University and Paul Abraham, the Managing Director and Client Partner for the Local Public Service business for Capita.
Listen now ↓

Episode 7: Can we still measure productivity in the modern economy?

The one question anyone working on productivity issues is asked most is: how do you actually measure it? How do we count what we make? And can we capture everything needed to produce products and services? And can economists and statisticians keep up with the rapid changes in today’s modern economy? To answer these questions, host Bart van Ark is joined by Josh Martin, Head of Productivity at the Office for National Statistics, Rebecca Riley, director of the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence and Professor of Practice at King’s Business School and Jonathan Haskel, Professor of Economics at Imperial College Business School. Listen now ↓

Episode 6: How can productivity create sustained growth in Northern Ireland?

This year marks the centenary of Northern Ireland’s creation. What has it done for the economy? And in particular for the productivity of its people and businesses? Has greater economic stability in the 23 years since the Good Friday agreement helped to advance productivity? And what will Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol mean for productivity going forward? Host Bart van Ark talks to three experts on the economy, business and the political environment in the region - Dame Rotha Johnston, Professor John Turner and Dr. Esmond Birnie - about the productivity pearls and perils in Northern Ireland. Listen now ↓

Episode 5: Will hybrid and flexible work help or hurt productivity and well-being?

Are hybrid working models good for productivity? Do employers and employees think differently about the pros and cons? And how does flexible working affect our mental health and well-being? Is there a trade off with productivity that we need to think about? In this episode, host Bart van Ark talks to Andy Start, Executive Officer of Government Services at Capita and Professor Diane Coyle of the University of Cambridge about how the pandemic has dramatically changed the way many of us work and the positive and negative effects it’s had on personal and organisational productivity. Listen now ↓

Episode 4: Can levelling up raise productivity in the Northern Powerhouse?

In this episode, Professor Bart van Ark talks to Lord Jim O’Neill, Dame Nancy Rothwell & Professor Philip McCann about raising productivity in the Northern Powerhouse, a powerful concept introduced more than five years ago with the aim to rebuild a competitive economy in northern England. They discuss what it’s delivered so far, its challenges, future directions and how it contributes to the government’s levelling-up agenda. Listen now ↓

Episode 3: Productivity in UK health care during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

How has the pandemic impacted on the performance of the healthcare sector? Professor Bart van Ark talks to Professor Diane Coyle and Kaya M. Dreesbeimdiek from the University of Cambridge who co-authored a recent paper on the topic. They’re joined by Dr. Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of The Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK. They discuss how we measure health productivity, what has happened to health productivity during the Covid-19 pandemic and ask how we rebuild a resilient health care sector to enable higher productivity in an uncertain environment. Listen now ↓

Episode 2: Productivity in the post Covid-19 era

Could Covid-19 be the game changer for the economy and create a true productivity miracle in the coming years? In this episode, Bart van Ark talks to Jan Mischke and Tera Allas of McKinsey about a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute exploring whether productivity and growth will return after the Covid-19 crisis.

They discuss why businesses should focus on operational efficiency to improve productivity, how the boldest firms have emerged the strongest from the crisis and how rapid digitisation is transforming the retail and healthcare sectors. Listen now ↓

Episode 1: Why does productivity matter?

In this episode, Bart van Ark talks to three esteemed economists - Andy Haldane, Dame Kate Barker and Professor Nick Crafts - who explain what productivity actually is and why it matters to everyone. They discuss why UK productivity has slowed down since the 2008 financial crisis, creating a rising gap between the UK and other advanced economies in Europe. They also explain why increased productivity is important for raising living standards - drawing on lessons from the industrial revolution, how it has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and what critical things can be done to manage the post-crisis challenges. Listen now ↓


About The Productivity Institute

The Productivity Institute is a research project involving nine academic institutions across the UK, eight regional productivity forums throughout the nation, and a national independent Productivity Commission to advise policy makers at all levels of government.

Find out more



How can we help your organisation?

Scroll Top