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166: The role of business in Brexit

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166: The role of business in Brexit
Leave your thoughts Stuart Thomson

By Stuart Thomson

Business is critical to the success of Brexit. Without their ideas and input, the Government may not focus as closely on the needs of the economy, or only on certain parts of the economy. Instead, business has to be robust and stand up for itself.

That may seem like a slightly strange thing to say. Many of the recent ‘insurgent’ election results have, at least in part, been a reaction against ‘big business’ and ‘the establishment’. In addition, Theresa May scrapped the Business Advisory Group, a year after it had been set up by her predecessor which could be viewed as the actions of a Government uninterested in corporate concerns of big business. Instead a new advisory panel made up of entrepreneurs and leading business figures with a renewed focus on supporting SMEs met for the first time on 15 November.

However, many businesses prefer to keep out of politics (often for good reason) and others think that Brexit is too big to worry about and they will instead simply deal with the consequences of the outcome. All the noise and various versions of Brexit are simply putting many off. This is the wrong way to look at the problem.

Government needs business in a range of ways.

  1. Closer to the people – all organisations, not just businesses, have the knowledge and insight of their employees. Getting access to this means having great internal communications and employee engagement programmes but it means that you have information that government needs. Organisations can provide a unique insight that government otherwise will spend time and effort trying to explore.
  2. Future growth potential – businesses understand where the market opportunities are. Whilst some Ministers may have business experience, they do not understand the full range of sectors. There has been talk about developing an industrial strategy but unless business gets involved then the strategy will simply be a wish list.
  3. Providing unity – if the Government is to enjoy a strong negotiating position then it needs unity of purpose. The position may change by the end of March when Article 50 is due to be triggered but as things stand, there are a range of Government Ministers all providing their ideas through the media as to what they think Brexit looks like. The more that Mrs May is seen not to be able to control her Cabinet and the more potentially conflicting ideas are circulating, the weaker the negotiating position will be. Businesses can cut across this political noise and help cement the Government’s position.
  4. Supporting the whole of Government – quite simply, government departments are being expected to do more with less and with budgets that are squeezed and often unconfirmed. Even if huge numbers of civil servants are not required then Brexit is a process that will dominate the attention of officials for years. That has a number of consequences. Businesses need to ensure that the normal business of government continues and that attention is not completely distracted by Brexit. It also means that individual departments are provided with input on Brexit matters. If not then potentially weak departments will be unable to stand up to the three main Brexit departments and critically the PM and her team. Government departments will lose confidence.
  5. The selling process – when it comes to final deal, the Government needs to sell it the people otherwise their (re)election will be jeopardised. That means the Prime Minister will need to stand on stages besides key people and explain the deal and its benefits. Heaven forbid if any compromises have had to made then these will need to be detailed as well. If we did live in an era of ‘post-truth’ then the selling will be even more important than ever. If businesses have been excluded for the two year process post the triggering of Article 50 then there is very little way they will help sell the deal. Why should they? What is the upside for them?

Whilst memos may not be recognised by Government, it is recognised by officials and those of us engaging with politicians. So far, the Government has talked about engagement through the whole Brexit process but details are, as with many other aspects, lacking. Business needs to be talking to government about such matters now.

Brexit is too important to be left to the politicians!

18 November 2016

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