Time for Action, Ideas and Investment

After two years of Theresa May’s Government negotiating a “no Brexit” Brexit, it felt like the country was beginning to resemble its Government:

Aimless, unsuccessful, drifting and doomed. Britain needed a change – of Government and attitude.

Now it’s way too early to tell whether Boris Johnson’s Government is the change that Britain needed. However in the last two weeks it has made a good start. The UK needed a Prime Minister to accentuate the positive and talk up “Global Britain” – and the visits to chicken farms, sausage factories and NHS hospitals show energy.

However with a majority of one he can’t really govern, certainly not for very long.

So Parliament has to deliver the Brexit that its politicians have three times pledged to do (by holding the Referendum in 2016; voting to by 498 to 114 to invoke Article 50 in February 2017 and then promising to deliver Brexit in the General Election of June 2017).

Then the UK must have a General Election.

All this threatens to leave business in continued uncertainty for a few more months yet.

But at last things are on the move and there are positive signs. After the Referendum, in October 2016, I wrote in this newsletter that “The Government’s task is to ensure that the opportunities Britain creates will outweigh what we will undoubtedly lose”. Since then we’ve seen a steady drift of jobs (particularly in our world leading finance sector) to Frankfurt, Zurich, Paris and most of all, to New York.

By contrast, we’ve seen almost no ideas to boost the UK and as a result lots of investment decisions have been delayed. So last week’s announcement that the new Government plans to create up to ten new freeports after Brexit was music to my ears. That’s exactly what the UK has to do, to balance what it will lose from Brexit.

I hope to hear of science parks, fintech hubs, medical zones, education centres and much much more in the coming months. I hope to hear of the UK embracing the Commonwealth and its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to harness the British network across the world. And I hope to hear of investment in growth. The coming General Election will in part be a referendum on austerity, so we need to hear the plans.

Labour has some big ideas too. It will be no surprise if other parties develop their own versions of its £500 billion National Investment Bank. And the country will need to decide if nationalisation is the best use of its capital and can be achieved without deterring future foreign investment. However this week’s announcement that Labour would hold a 12 month public inquiry to “reveal and root out corruption” in the finance sector suggests that it is unlikely to be supported by many in business.

So what should business do ?

Those that are facing immediate detriment from a “no deal” Brexit need to ensure their case for support and potential compensation has been heard. Everyone else needs to update their sector plans – probably through their industry and trade bodies – and pitch them to Government. The UK now has a Government that might listen to ideas. It’s also a good idea to engage with Labour and attempt to shape their proposals.

Above all else, I’d suggest that businesses should take a leaf out of the new Government’s book. Employees need a reason to believe, just as much as citizens. It’s time for leaders to show positivity and energy.

It’s time for action, ideas and investment.


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