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Britain, Brexit and managing change

Tony Langham 2012

 

Britain (or at least England and Wales) will be leaving the EU and we all need to accept the result of the referendum. We shouldn’t indulge any blame games or conversations about a second referendum, or complain at how close the vote was. As the whole of the establishment, including the leaders of all traditional political parties, urged people to vote to remain – 52% to 48% is a conclusive result. Businesses need to reassure their staff, customers and clients – keep a clear head, and get on with life.

The nation’s elite also needs to understand its fellow countrymen. London voted to remain in the EU by 60% to 40% with Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow and Edinburgh voting to remain by similar margins. Businesses need to understand the anti-establishment mindset of many fellow citizens to successfully manage their reputation, explain executive pay, engage with employees and handle crises. It’s time for British business to open a new conversation with the British people. Many business leaders and consultants will continue to live, work and advise within the London capital markets bubble, but at Lansons we believe that effective “corporate” communications advice involves greater awareness of society.

In the short term, there will continue to be considerable turmoil, in markets and across politics. Several big purchasing decisions, whether to acquire a company or move house, will be delayed. We have to hope the nation’s plans to handle volatility and uncertainty are effective. We are working with our clients to secure what assurances they can, that what they require from the European single market can be maintained. From financial services to healthcare to manufacturing, it will be the detail that matters. We are also working with our clients to understand and reassure their clients and customers.

We can be certain that London will, over the next ten years, lose some European head offices (particularly of financial services companies) to Frankfurt and Paris – and possibly to Dublin or Edinburgh. We envisage that we will be helping some organisations communicate and manage relocation of headquarters, jobs and manufacturing capacity from the UK to countries inside the EU.

We believe that the task facing Britain is to create opportunities for business that will outweigh what we will lose. Our initial thoughts lie in five areas :

–          Soft power is now even more crucial for Britain and we need to demonstrate the case for greater state spending to enhance this. Vastly increased budgets for The British Council, Visit Britain, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and UKTI would be a good place to start.

–          Sadly, Britain’s business brand has been harmed by the way the referendum campaign has portrayed the UK internationally. Our leading companies therefore need to explain Britain’s strengths and what has happened, to their stakeholders all round the world.

–          In regulated sectors like financial services and healthcare, Brexit can allow Britain to create opportunities. Organisations will still have to adhere to EU and US regulations, to market to those countries, but we can use our independence to create regulatory inspired innovation to attract business to the UK. Taxation and regulation can also build larger clusters in sectors like technology, specialist manufacturing and bio-tech. We are already helping our clients make their case for this kind of innovation.

–          As fewer of the UK’s laws will be made in Brussels, the laws and regulations we create ourselves will be more important to organisations – and we see UK public affairs becoming more important to our clients.

–          We all need to be more global in outlook, as British business has to look towards the USA, China and the Commonwealth in addition to Europe, for future commercial success.

At Lansons, we are positive and forward looking. Britain is a great country and although I believe that we would have been Stronger In the EU, I also believe that we will be Strong Out.

Contact Tony Langham. This article is featured in Lansons Newsletter – July 2016, you can view the newsletter here.