Business has a right to feel let-down by our politicians
Gary Smith, Regional Chairman IoD East Midlands
Spirit-sapping limbo… that’s not exactly an optimistic note to start on, is it, but when you see a quote that you feel is apt and sums up the current situation, grab it regardless of the consequences. The line comes, of course, from the IoD in London and was uttered by our interim director-general the day Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was voted down by MPs for the third time. It is possible that by the time you read this issue of IoD East Midlands a route through the impasse will have opened up… but that still won’t excuse what has been a pitiful period in British politics.
What appears to have been lost in the point scoring and No Deal/soft deal/ new vote debates is that the fog of uncertainty created by Westminster is exactly the opposite of what business is calling for. From the start, indeed right from 2016, business has asked for clarity. Give us a path, tell us the landscape and we will work out the best way for our businesses to operate in it.
But what we got in reply was anything but: where we wanted clarity, we got confusion. No business leader can possibly make key decisions in the current muddle of conflicting messages – and that’s why business has increasingly felt hamstrung by the unedifying farce played out before us since Christmas.
I have spoken to a number of business leaders across the East Midlands who tell me of investment decisions put on ice, of jobs not created, of new products not being exploited, as people keep their powder dry for the day when they know which way to move. Business confidence, as recorded by IoD polling, is low and soon this will start to have a knock-on effect on jobs created. Whatever the landscape is on the day you read this, what has gone previously has been a sorry excuse for government.
The irony is, despite the political landscape, the economy remains reasonably strong. I speak to many people who are flying – particularly in the digital economy, where growth seems never-ending. It is particularly pleasing to hear about companies looking to export outside the EU, and more companies are taking their first steps trading overseas.
What frustrates, though, is that that news shows the strength, versatility, flexibility and imagination of the UK business world; just imagine how well it would do if it knew what it needed to do to trade with its nearest neighbours!
Our Women as Leaders convention at the end of March is reported on elsewhere in this issue so I will hold back on saying too much. What I will give you, however, are my thoughts on the day, which was a marvellously uplifting occasion. We were joined by the IoD chair, Charlotte Valeur, who had some interesting things to say on the current issues of gender balance, the importance of women in the workplace and growing true diversity of thought in your business.
Among Charlotte’s comments was a question as to whether we still needed ‘Women as Leaders’ conferences at all – should we just identify as ‘Leaders’ and stop ‘discriminating’ against men? She also wondered whether boys in today’s society were struggling to find a voice as the attention is directed towards girls. She was very strong on the values that have underpinned her own career, and spoke of the need for ‘authentic leadership’. It is impossible to bring your team with you unless you are an open, honest and transparent leader, she said.
Her watchwords and key values are simple: Collaboration, honesty, transparency and truth. Charlotte was joined on the convention stage by a very eclectic group of speakers who informed, amused and provoked debate in equal measure. Ably hosted as previously by Louise Third, I was particularly impressed by Lincolnshire Chief Constable Bill Skelly – recently voted one of the UK’s ‘Top 50 Kindest Leaders to Work For’ – and Lisa Wainwright, who comes from a sporting background and is a naturally amusing and engaging speaker.
All backed by a lively Q&A and plenty of interaction from the floor, it was a hugely enjoyable day – full of clarity, common sense, understanding of others’ views and honesty. Feel free to draw your own comparisons between the first half of this column, and the second!
To read the IoD East Midlands Spring 2019 Magazine: