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Archive for July, 2017

Brexit and the influence of Corporate Business: Money talks and the rest of the business community walks

Brexit 2The result of the European Referendum was a surprise to many, and that includes a substantial part of the leave side itself. Yet over a year on, with Article 50 Triggered over 3 Months ago and David Davies now participating in regular sessions of ‘negotiation’ with the European elite, nobody seems to know what impact Brexit will have on any of the key issues, and whether any of what are being considered as the obvious problems which led to the ‘No’ Vote will really have been resolved.

With Brexit constituting a polysemic reference point which in the imaginations of everyone will look as different as the number of people you might ask, it is perhaps no wonder that there really is as much confusion as there appears to be about the whole process.

Some do of course interpret what is already the natural anxiety which is accompanying these early stages of our departure from the European Union as change in the minds of the majority that initiated this whole process. Yet they would do well to remember that none of the reasons which prompted that significant choice on the part of so many have as yet been resolved, and especially so in the case of the many more beyond those generally accepted and not least of all the spectre of corporate and political self interest.

It should really be of little surprise that things have looked like such a mess in these circumstances and genuinely forgivable given the lack of pre-Referendum preparation for its outcome and the chain of events including a change of Prime Minister and an arguably unexpected General Election which has distributed power in peculiar directions.

What is less easy to overlook, and perhaps should be of great concern to us all, is the readiness of former remain-backing politicians to focus upon the opinion and input of sources from the corporate world who also sought the same outcome when considering what will or wont work for business-full-stop, when what they appear to hope will be an indefinite period of transition commences in March 2019 and we formally leave the Union.

Input of organisations such as the CBI, whilst important in its capacity as a member-based industry voice, is nonetheless representative only of the executives and companies for whom they work, and therefore the highly subjective and specifically profit-led interests that they all have in conjunction with their own trading arrangements with Europe – rather than what is objectively in the better interests of us all.

Whilst it may be to some degree inevitable that UK-European trade will come at a greater cost to all businesses in the future, these changes will in real or financial terms be no different than the changes in costs of manufacturing, supply and service provision which have accompanied change after change after change which have been instigated by a continual flow of new European Laws and Directives when they hit relevant businesses. In fact, it is only the fact that this is an industry-wide phenomenon, rather than just another hitting one sector or another, which really marks leaving the European Union itself as being markedly different from changes that to real business, would really be ‘just one of those things’.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the Government is listening to the wrong people, but it certainly does not appear to be taking into account the realities facing the complete range of the right ones either, and when the views of Remain-lite big business are put into their true perspective, the news is arguably far from as bad as the comparatively few companies which are big enough to swim in the pool with the CBI and have influence on its own Policy would like us and the Government to think.

Motivation is regrettably key, and whilst it is considered normal to talk about the individuals who give voice to CBI membership and the corporate business community as being representative of the ‘business view’, very few, if indeed any of the people who have reached the top of these large Companies will have really cut their teeth in the furnace of SME business start-ups, development and management. It is here where you ultimately have no choice but to accept, get on and work with legislatory change, or get out of the market and let someone else have a go if you can no longer make it work.

Small business, which suggested by Federation of Small Business (FSB) figures makes up at least 60% of industry, thrives on being adaptable and embracing each and every change that it will face, which for most will come to them pretty much on almost daily basis. What it doesn’t have – even with membership organisations like the FSB  – which are again only technically representative of the views of their members with a voice – is a seat, or what should be a significant number of seats around the ‘top table’ when it comes to getting the ear of Ministers and indeed our Government.

This is a travesty, as the business environment which they inhabit is the real engine room of our economy, and the place where industry feedback is most open and reflective of the concerns and realities which really do face all businesses.

SME’s are the business equivalent of the electoral grassroots and the only place to go if Government really wants to establish the priorities of British Business to inform our negotiations with the EU as we transition through Brexit to what may then prove to be a much more productive world for the British economy beyond.

image thanks to news.sky.com 

Public outcry over Grenfell may ensure prosecutions, but the root causes of public sector indifference are cultural and injustices are destined to continue

July 24, 2017 3 comments

Residents of Kensington and Chelsea are right to be very concerned about the conduct of the local Council in their handling of events leading up to, during and after the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Yet we should all be concerned with the reality sitting beyond and concerning the state of the whole Public Sector, which leaves Grenfell unique only because of the size and obvious impact of this horrific event, which has captured the public imagination for all the wrong reasons.

It would be difficult for anyone not to picture the horror of the event and to at very least attempt to consider just how significant the impact of an experience of this nature would be. But the race to apportion blame and the politicisation of this disaster for purposes which reach way beyond those of helping or supporting the people directly involved are diversionary at best, and belie the indirect culpability which lies at the feet of politicians of all backgrounds and officers alike, who are operating and making decisions within a system which might appear fine beyond without the presence of Austerity, but is otherwise quietly failing us all miserably.

Yes, the criminal inquiry which the Police are now working on may well identify individuals who will be charged and subsequently found guilty of having some kind or level of criminal liability. Just as the Judge-led inquiry into the technical aspects of the event, construction and renovation of Grenfell Tower may identify problems with wider policy which will then be used to inform changes which will be intended to make structural development safer for users.

But as I have written before when then Prime Minister David Cameron was talking up Jail-terms for the individuals responsible for the failures of the Local Council and Public Sector in Rotherham, there are cultural issues present right the way through local government and the public sector which make incidents that continue to disadvantage the public all but inevitable at all levels, and in many ways that people outside of Government may never become aware of.

Did anyone get jailed over Rotherham? Has anything changed since then? Have any of the parliamentary political parties demonstrated even the slightest hint that they are in touch with the greater problems caused not by Austerity alone, which persist far more significantly in the background and way beyond?

No being the answer to these questions is of course a travesty in itself. Yet even worse is the misleading direction that this whole debate will be taken if sound bites and labels such as ‘social murder’ continue to be taken literally by followers of the media who rely on news mediums – rightly or wrongly as it may be – to provide them with an accurate view of what is really going on, when all they are really getting is very little fact and one hell of a distorted view.

If the complexity of the issues which make our public services arguably unfit for purpose in all but name are not understood by the very people who hold the responsibility to lead us at all levels of Government, how can anyone who does not even have the slightest experience of the inner workings of the public sector be expected to have even a remote idea of what is really going on?

If they did, we would surely be now looking for names for a whole range of crimes either carried out or instigated without intent otherwise known criminally as corruption, embezzlement and fraud, to name just a few.

Some might like that idea greatly. But the very regrettable reality is that the problem spanning the public sector is culturally embedded and the result of many issues which to address will take political leadership of a kind that we have long since seen on offer.

Ultimately, an embedded problem of this kind must be addressed by action taken at the very top and this is why I previously asked if the last Prime Minister should himself be the one facing the jail term.

Until there is an acceptance and willingness on the part of politicians from all political parties to address the greater problems which sit behind not only events with the level of notoriety of the Grenfell Tower disaster and Rotherham, but also the ‘unintended’ injustices of all kinds which are visited upon taxpayers daily, we remain destined to have future events of this kind continuing to unfold.

This is at best unjust and it is a very long way from what we should all be able to expect from any form of government which actually works for the people it is supposed to serve.

10 Years on from the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods: Some things are different, but out of sight is still very much out of mind for the politicians and this is what must really change

July 20, 2017 2 comments
Floods 2007 1

Unloading water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

With 10 years now passed since the Gloucestershire floods of 2007 we cast our minds back to the magnitude of those events that affected significant numbers of people and communities across the County and surrounding areas in the middle of July that year.

Only a matter of weeks into my first term as an elected councillor at Tewkesbury Borough, I remember well that the significance of what felt like a tropical rainstorm parked overhead for most of that Friday would go way beyond a vast extension of what sadly remains a regular local event.

So much water trying to find its way to a natural watercourse created rivers and lakes in the most unexpected locations and seeing upended cars by the roadside and in ditches the following day, like some scene from War of the Worlds left a picture in my mind which was at the very least quite surreal.

But it was on the Sunday, when word really began to spread that there had been a problem at the Mythe Water Treatment Plant as a result of the Flooding which meant tap water was about to run out, that the real consequences of what we were afterwards told was a 1 in 100 year event really began to unfold.

After an unexpected phone call from a constituent that afternoon, asking where they could get water I found myself spending over two weeks delivering water and coordinating drinking water supplies around my Council Ward, increasingly conscious of how very thin the veil of individual social responsibility, commonly known as civil order actually is, when it was pricked in so many other areas by people fighting over water, steeling it and even urinating in bowsers where communities had been supplied. We can only begin to imagine what would have happened if the emergency services had not won their battle against the rising floodwaters of the River Severn when just centimetres from flooding the Walham Electricity Substation just outside Gloucester.

From my own perspective, the contact with members of the community I then represented that getting so directly involved gave me was of incalculable benefit. Not only did I see the impact of the breakdown of our utility service supply at first hand, I also gained real-time understanding of flooding and also what can be the very localised nature and requirements of our arbitrary Planning system, which continues to fail local people, and the communities in which they live every day.

The news channels have today made use of the good-news stories which followed the 2007 Floods, such as the permanent flood protection and defences that have been erected in places such as Upton on Severn, just a few miles upstream from Tewkesbury. Yet the bigger story beyond remains the lack of understanding or failure to acknowledge the real impact of building not only near or on flood plains themselves, but also on ground which in extreme weather events, would or has historically become the natural channels where a rainfall overload will find its way to our local main rivers via the floodplains in between.

Sadly, consideration of the issues which sit behind those which are most obvious is not something that Government at National or Local level beyond is happy to embrace, particularly at a time when the politically expedient route to solving our housing supply problems is to simply focus on everything that encourages people and businesses to build.

Events like the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods are not rare events. This fact has been only too well illustrated by the many different experiences that Towns, Villages and in some cases even Cities have been continuing to experience ever since, and yet we still have a Planning system, environmental policies and public sector approach which is in real terms not even fully reactive in nature.

The pain, loss and suffering which people suffer, often much longer than during the time of these flooding events themselves should have by now resulted in a proactive approach to flood prevention. But 10 years now gone – a period in which even the very slow wheels of Government could have delivered the creative and fully considered policy changes and developments which might at least have future-proofed existing properties from what might be avoidable disaster – Politicians are still failing to adapt to dealing with the biggest issues which are facing communities, albeit the ones that are far from being obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a conservative through and through, but I do not identify with anything that the Conservative Party currently does or stands for

UnknownFinally, after 5 years of a Coalition, unexpected majority government and subsequent referendum results which completely re-wrote ‘the script’, soon followed by an apparently bomb-proof prime-ministerial-tenure being turned to little more than wobbly jelly in just one night, the Conservative chatter has began to focus on the health of the Party itself.

For a few moments as I glanced upon one of the latest articles to outline some angle upon the need for change, I found myself hopeful that this consistent run of electoral shocks might now at last be about to hit the right spot.

Regrettably, my momentary lapse of reason disappeared as I realised almost instantly that the Party continues to perceive its problems to be completely outside of itself and with the way it communicates with others, rather than being anything intrinsic, or even slightly in-between.

It’s not to say that the thoughts of prominent Conservative Politicians such as Bernard Jenkin and Robert Halfon don’t make sense, because the symptomatic problems they identify are certainly there. However, as has been the case both Nationally and Locally for a very long time, decision making within the whole Party has and is being made without any relationship to core conservative values, leaving both policy and approach with an identity crisis which far too many seem unable to understand.

That is why no message – no matter its medium of delivery – is going to genuinely captivate a wider audience of any age or demographic, if Conservative Party Politicians and the Party itself continue to exhibit and practice a belief system which is increasingly focused upon the self .

Until this week, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had done a very good job of doing the exact opposite – arguably to a point where in a post-General-Election-panic, the Tories have been trying to mimic them without even hesitating to ask themselves why.

Convincing as this few week period of a new compassionate politics was, the cat was well and truly let out of the bag when senior shadow frontbenchers came clean publically to reveal that Labour’s electioneering ‘promise’ of ending student tuition fees was only ever an ‘ambition’ after all.

We can only begin to imagine what that revelation might have now meant when applied to any or indeed all of Labour’s Manifesto ‘commitments’, had those voters who had trusted this now debunked document been sufficient in number to see Mr Corbyn now resident in No. 10.

Possessing the front to tell such whoppers in order to secure a majority in any election should not even be an aspiration of a Political Party which will take its role in government seriously when called upon to represent the interests of ALL voters with equanimity, let alone one that could even come close to gaining that considerable trust.

Sadly, the common ground which all of our Political Parties share seldom touches on the provision and creation of policy itself and they are today all too alike, for all of the wrong reasons. This would almost certainly no longer be the case the very minute that the political direction of any significant part of these groups were focused upon a cause which were genuinely focused beyond their own electability.

The clear differentiation between a Conservative Party motivated to deliver and take responsibility in every way that it can without prioritising its own electoral prospects before non-newsworthy need, and an apparently resurgent Labour Party focused only on attributing blame on anyone who doesn’t share their views and inspiring generations of young people to do exactly the same, would be striking.

But gaining and maintaining power for nothing more than the sake of having power itself is the position which the Conservative Government has reached, just like many of the Councils the Party and its Local Associations ‘control’ right across the Country.

Until conservatives with decision making responsibility can once again accept and exhibit the behavioral responsibility they could and should reasonably be expected to have to others once elected, and take difficult decisions outside of their comfort zone as well as those that feel expedient or easy, nobody within or supporting the Conservative Party is going to find it simple to inspire or engage others at grassroots level and on the doorsteps, irrespective of what the message or method of delivery the Party marketing machine might employ.

The precarious nature of the Prime Minister’s ‘working majority’ today should bring no happiness to anyone on any political side, as the implications tomorrow may prove to be particularly far reaching for us all. Yet the increasingly game-like nature of government and the crowd-pleasing nature of politicians of all sides leaves the serious side of governance in this Country being extremely weak within an increasingly fragile world where real strength would serve us all very well.

If elected Conservatives really want to make, live and evangelise change that will deliver something genuinely better for all people, whilst inspiring the whole electorate by giving them something truly conservative to vote for, they must all ‘dare to be different’, rather than continue to live and propagate the lives of the caricatures that the majority of the people outside of the Westminster bubble really do today see and believe them to be.

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