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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 

Free Childcare and The CBI: Big business itself has a lot more of a role to play than just identifying a need, just as Government does through the development of not-for-profit provision and Social Enterprise…

November 10, 2014 Leave a comment

The CBI has today said that Government must create more free childcare, and on the face of it they are certainly right.

But is it only the Government’s responsibility to provide the support mechanisms which enable parents to work when business will be one of the biggest beneficiaries too?

Childcare costs play a much bigger role in the earning potential, wellbeing and general happiness of families with very young children and low incomes than really ever seems to be fully acknowledged. Yet this, and the reality that the period of support and nurture before school for all children is just as important as the years between the ages of 4 and 18 seems to be treated as anything but.

Schemes such as nursery vouchers help, but are in many ways arguably little more than a gimmick for politicians, or a fire-and-forget incentive for some employers. The privately owned monopoly of early years care which currently provides this support to parents is after all significantly profit based, whilst providing services that like schools, are actually required for the benefit of the wider community as a whole.

Like it or not, the days have now long since passed when the average nuclear family could be maintained on one wage alone. The option for one parent to stay at home during the formative years of their young children is a luxury that for many is simply financially impossible. Yet the lack of genuinely affordable quality childcare provision can soon remove any real choice and the likelihood of both or of a single parent prioritising work when there is a real cost in quality of life to the child or children concerned, without any benefit elsewhere – is hardly any choice at all.

From this perspective, what the CBI is saying may well be fundamentally right, and when Government has long since provided free education as the basic right – and indeed requirement for every child, it does seem rather odd that the system so squarely favours the use of private care in the pre-school years.

However, there is a very large ‘but’ to all this.

Whilst business representatives may be correct in identifying a key barrier to entry for people seeking a return to the workplace, is it not very questionable to place the emphasis of responsibility squarely at the door of Government when it is not only the employees, but the businesses themselves which in many cases will ultimately benefit too?

Making the choice easy for parents to return to the workplace after the birth of a child should be a priority for any Government that considers its responsibilities to the people it represents in a wholly balanced and fair way. However, most problems like this have in the past been solved by writing a cheque, and the days when politicians could just solve problems by throwing money at them have long since gone.

To the CBI, the suggested cost of £300 Million might not sound like a great deal. But when you consider that this figure would equate to nearly £700K off the budget of every single principle Local Authority in the UK – and then give thought to what that would then mean in the terms of cuts to services that such a figure would in a shifting of priorities bring, you can quickly see how a sum of this kind could hardly come without any significant strings, wherever the money comes from.

Somebody somewhere is always losing out. Government doesn’t have the money to provide the services that it already does, and whilst borrowing sounds like a very attractive idea to politicians who are buried in the complexities of what will probably have been one of the longest General Election campaigns in history, it is the result of this approach time and again before, that sees the current UK debt at beyond £1 Trillion and accumulating at a rate of over £5K per second.

We do need either local authorities and social enterprise to provide a quality alternative to privately owned and operated nurseries. Especially so for parents working for small businesses or who are self employed themselves.

Like an increasing number of different areas within local government which are moving towards entrepreneurial projects in order to maintain existing services and potentially attract funds to support others, Education Authorities could, and arguably should be developing services such as day nurseries and crèche’s which charge fees, but keep the fee levels real and in keeping with what is affordable for those parents working in low paid jobs.

But for others, who experience these difficulties just the same, but work for much larger, perhaps corporate level companies, their employers have a role to play too. Bigger companies could arguably provide these services at a much lower cost than a third party organisation or independent not-for-profit organisation could ever do so, whilst providing on-site services that for many of the employees concerned could take their work experience into an entirely different league.

Yes, some employers do already offer such services on-site. But the benefits of offering on site nurseries and crèches within all businesses where it would be possible to do so could be untold; run completely at cost, and also potentially opened up to support other parents from the communities which surround large employment sites – where outreach could almost certainly always be improved.

Looking to others for the answer has regrettably become an all too familiar approach within a culture that inherently considers little more than profit, risk and the potential for blame.

So when it comes to the benefit that will no doubt come from the profitability of getting so many more of these parents back into work, the employers themselves should also have to pick up and carry more of the risks involved in providing the solutions that will make it attractive for parents to be happy to do so.

Government can and should do a whole lot more to support business growth and therefore increase the number of jobs available and the earning ability of the people within them. But business leaders also need to accept that they have a role to play in helping to support the lives of those they employ beyond work, and also recognise that there might be very positive results accepting that the two are not always mutually exclusive.

image: The Guardian

 

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