Political life has stalled - it’s a good job business has kept on going
I have to admit that I’m writing this column with a certain amount of trepidation, fairly convinced that whatever I say, the current political situation could change so dramatically that it quickly makes me look pretty out-of-date! But here goes anyway. Several things are known: the current situation over Brexit is a mess and shows no sign of becoming clearer any time soon. Politics is on the back-burner while that issue dominates the agenda and any future planning by Government has been hideously compromised. The Government’s policy framework, as set out in recent weeks, is seen as largely irrelevant as it will not be able to push anything through the House of Commons as it stands.
We are in limbo. Whatever flow chart you follow as to the next steps open to the Government/Parliament, it seems to lead to a box marked ‘outcome unclear’. Boris Johnson may get his Brexit deal, but if he does, it will only lead to a General Election, and that may well throw the whole issue back in the air again. Whatever deal the Prime Minister seals, if at all, a General Election this December could result in a Government of a wholly different hue, and that could require us going back to Brussels in search of a different outcome. It could also result in a second referendum, prolonging the uncertainty still further. I’m reluctant to stare too long into my crystal ball but if you were to tell me that we’d still be in the same situation in 12 months’ time, with the same arguments being voiced and rejected, I’d probably agree. I was looking through some old columns and came across one from just over two years ago, written after I’d been to meet Sir John Peace at an event at MIRA, in the West Midlands. Sir John told his audience that business was crying out for certainty, for an idea of how the land lay in regard to regulations and restrictions. “Just give us some clarity over the rules we have to play by, and we’ll sort our businesses out to make sure we can fit round them” was the gist of his address. Two years later, has Sir John’s request been granted? I think we all know the answer to that! About the only positive thing to emerge from the whole Brexit shambles is that it has shone a spotlight once again on the extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness of British business. I think if you had said to anyone in the immediate aftermath of the referendum in 2016, that we’d still be arguing about the first steps to come out of the EU by autumn 2019, they would not have believed you. What’s more, they would have predicted that if that unlikely scenario were true, the economy would be in a total mess – rather akin to the situation after the banks collapsed in 2007-8. Yet here we sit with low unemployment, low inflation and low interest rates.
Yes, business confidence has taken a knock, and future investment plans are down, but the current position is stronger than anyone could dare hope. That can be put down to the forward thinking and hard work of directors and their staff across the UK; a positive, despite everything Parliament has thrown at us. So what else is new? I know our colleagues in the West Midlands are upset by the storm clouds hanging over the future of HS2. It is a shame that big infrastructure projects such as this are always mired in controversy and rarely run smoothly, and this is no exception. Indeed, if anything it is one of the worst examples of a backlash against a major project. A huge amount of money has been spent already and could potentially end up wasted if the whole project is cancelled, but my gut feeling is that HS2 will survive in its London Birmingham form, but hopes of extending it to the East Midlands and further north may be in jeopardy. That would be disappointing if proved correct and something needs to take its place if the regions outside London aren’t to feel abandoned by Parliament. Personally, I would like to see a huge focus on improving east-west rail links across the Midlands. While the Government’s plans for road spending in the region are welcomed, what is needed more are fast, reliable and regular train services linking Derby, Leicester and Nottingham to Birmingham. Current services are overpriced and under-resourced and we desperately need better. While fast links to London are always appreciated, better links to our closest economic partners are more important. With people in the north calling for similar improvements in east-west links between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, pushing further north to York and Newcastle, this could be an alternative plan that delivers benefits without the same price tag or controversy. Turning to IoD matters, I’d like to welcome our new Director-General, Jonathan Geldart. I’ve worked with him through our respective roles as Chairs of IoD regions, in his case IoD Yorkshire.
Jonathan is an IoD man through and through, has been a member for 20-plus years and has served the institute in a number of capacities, not least through his duties with IoD Yorkshire. It’s a sound appointment and I’m sure he will be a steady hand on the tiller. His experience overseas – particularly in China – will be a huge bonus as the IoD looks to take its values overseas, while his understanding of the IoD’s role and relevance to business leaders and directors in the UK will help underpin its work for many years to come.
On the subject of the IoD, I would like to end by bringing your attention to the programme of professional development courses being run in the region.
The IoD has long prided itself on hosting excellent training events for directors, either as part of its Chartered Director programme or simply targeted courses focusing on specific issues. You can find out more Here. With the turmoil we are facing it’s probably never been more important to make sure you are at your best and have the skills you need to take your business forward. The IoD Professional Development Series is excellent for honing skills, ensuring you understand the latest developments, implementing good corporate governance and are thinking about the bigger picture surrounding your day-to-day activities. Our courses and training programmes can give you a vital edge to succeed in the frenetic and complex business world we face today.- Garry Smith, Regional Chairman IoD East Midlands