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Monday's Business and Politics round-up

20 Mar 2017
Smart devices resting on a Business paper

IoD in the news

Financial Times - From freeze-out to flattery: how employers shed unwanted staff
Sunday Times - Boards need to engage with a wider world than investors
City AM - May prepares to move on energy

Independence 2: The Wrath of Ruth

The fallout from last Monday’s announcement of a second independence referendum in Scotland rumbled over into the weekend news. It’s fair to say that most people were blindsided by Nicola Sturgeon’s big announcement last week, but - after a few days spent re-gathering their composure - Scottish opponents of independence launched an all out fight-back this weekend.

The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson put in a characteristically punchy performance on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, hitting out at the Scotland’s First Minister for announcing a new referendum without giving any detail on her vision for independence (EU membership? Currency? etc.). Elsewhere, Ms Davidson also accused the SNP of using a new referendum as a ploy to divert public attention away from growing crises facing the Scottish NHS, police force, and schools. ‘While Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have been storming barricades, they’ve forgotten to mind the shop’, she wrote in the Sun on Sunday.

Gordon Brown also popped up over the weekend with a re-run of his intervention during the 2014 independence campaign. Last time around, the former PM proposed an increase in the number of powers devolved Scotland as a third way between independence and the status quo. The speech is widely thought to have tipped the balance of the debate in favour of the Union. This time, he will be hoping that an early intervention along the same lines will have the same positive effect. Speaking on Saturday, Mr Brown warned Scotland against leaving the ‘British Single Market’. He suggested that increased regulatory powers, as well as the ability to set VAT rates and strike international agreements would be a preferable option to ‘hard’ independence.

These latest shots across the SNP’s bows come amidst an escalating war of words between the UK and Scottish Governments. Under normal circumstances, both Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon have cast-iron reputations for measured and careful language. However, with both standing to lose big if they don’t command the public narrative on independence, traded accusations of ‘condescension’, ‘intransigence’, and gamesmanship will likely be the order of the day for the time being.

Swamping the agenda

The scale of the task facing policy makers in delivering Brexit has been underlined this morning in a report by a prominent think tank. The Institute for Government (IFG) has warned that Parliament may have to process up to 15 new, Brexit-related bills before the UK’s leaves the EU. With the Queen’s speech introducing an average of 20 new pieces of legislation every session, for so many to be dedicated to one issue would be unprecedented.
For many, there will be worries that that such a swamped agenda will affect Parliament’s ability to deliver on the Government’s wider plans. Hannah White, the IFG’s research director said that ‘the legislation required for Brexit will leave little parliamentary time for anything else...and making a success of it will require a large volume of bills and secondary legislation to be passed by Parliament against a hard deadline’. The solution, the think tank says, will be for the Government to ‘ruthlessly prioritise’ other bills and find as many non-legislative routes as possible to push their agenda.
According to the report, the areas likely to need new legislation will include things like new customs arrangements and immigration controls. The new bills will also be in addition to the Article 50 bill (given Royal Assent last week), and the Great Repeal Bill, which is expected to be brought forward early in 2018.
For many in the business community, there will be concerns that such a complex legislative agenda may spill over into complex new regulatory and compliance arrangements for UK firms. At a time when Brexit-related uncertainty will be at the front of their minds (and large new regulatory costs are already coming down the line) they will look to the Government to minimise the burden of these new bills before they come into force.
Theresa May is expected to trigger the formal Brexit process later this month.

Uber and out

Uber has come in for quite a bit of criticism recently. If it isn’t dealing with accusations of exploitation and a slew of new tribunal proceedings brought by its drivers, it’s fighting to douse the media flames triggered by the latest outburst from the app’s bombastic founder, Travis Kalanick. This time though, the world beating taxi hailing service has been rocked by resignation.

Jeff Jones, Uber’s Company President, quit his post yesterday after just seven months in the role. Mr Jones - a marketing expert - had originally been hired to help soften the company’s abrasive image, and he had also been performing some of the tasks of a Chief Operating Officer (COO). However, he is thought to be upset at the company’s latest decision to look for a new COO without placing him on the candidate shortlist. In a statement, Mr Jones said ‘it is now clear that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business’.

Privately, some are suggesting that the introduction of a new COO to Uber’s management structure will be the trigger for Travis Kalanick’s resignation as CEO. Such a move could be calculated to allay investor concerns if Uber were to move for an initial public offering.

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