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When it comes to Brexit, Government is failing to hear the concerns of UK’s industries – warns experts

Mineral Products Association

4 min read Partner content

An expert panel of business leaders, economists, and policy experts hosted by Mineral Products Association urged Government to build stronger links with UK industry if it wants to get the right Brexit deal.

Speaking last week at the Mineral Product Association’s ‘Adapting to change’ conference, Sir Simon Fraser, the former Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, broke his golden rule of not speaking publicly the day before an election.

He told the audience he should have learned his lesson a few months ago, when he made the mistake of discussing Britain’s future role in the world under a Clinton Presidency. The next day, Donald Trump won the election.

This was an example of the kind of uncertainty that the UK’s business community is currently facing, he warned, saying:

“The pace of change is changing … and every year is a revolutionary year.

“We are navigating a lot of uncertainty and the international context is unpredictable - the biggest individual challenge we are facing is Brexit.”

How business could adapt and thrive in the changing environment of Brexit Britain was the theme of the day discussed by Sir Simon, and a panel of business leaders, economists and policy experts.

The former senior civil servant argued that the best way for business to get ahead in this uncertain period was to improve their ability to demonstrate their importance in society.

“For business, this is not a time for hubris, but for responsibility.

“Business needs to build a stronger narrative to demonstrate a long record of service to society and to their community.”

Simon Vivian, Chairman of the Mineral Product Association,  added that getting better at managing uncertainty is becoming an ever more important part of the industry, given the strong link between business confidence and investment.

He said the production of the millions of tonnes of MPA member’s products needed each year to build roads, schools and hospitals was dependent on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

“The ultimate shape of the deal with the European Union matters, as it defines not only access to important European markets, but more significantly, to skilled and less skilled labour,” cautioned Mr Vivian.

The audience overwhelmingly agreed, as evidenced by a poll where 52% voted “Europe after Brexit” as the key issue to impact the UK’s future.

Yet, despite the obvious importance of the EU deal to UK industry, the panellists raised concern that in the early stages of Brexit negotiation planning, the necessary link between Government and industry, had been missing.

Deputy Director-General for Policy and Campaigns at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Josh Hardie argued that this disconnect is due to a failure of Government to fully appreciate the concerns of the business community.

“We implore Government to stop and imagine that they were a business leader. What are they feeling? What are they thinking? What are they facing that affects their ability to prosper and to pass that prosperity on?”

Ensuring businesses are well informed must become one of the Government’s key priorities as the Brexit process moved forward, said the panel. Businesses have become settled in their own environments, and the pace of change needed to keep up with the Brexit process could disrupt the continuity and confidence that industries rely on, leaving some companies with business models that are not fit for purpose.

To tackle these issues, delegates urged the Government to create new channels for co-operation and communication with business. Josh Hardy of the CBI called for a “new era of partnership and collaboration between business and Government” with business “not just feeding into Government, but business hearing back from Government.”

There was also a call for Government to better utilise the expertise of the business community when it came to building a negotiating position for the business element of the Brexit deal. There were concerns that the Government had been failing to take up the offers of business people who had volunteered their services, but believed that this valuable talent pool could go a long way to filling the expertise gap in the UK negotiation team.

The Government’s lack of detail on the specifics of the Brexit plan was noted as a major hurdle to ensuring business confidence. The panel experts asserted that this underlying uncertainty was undermining the Government’s domestic efforts to improve the UK economy.

With the UK only days away from the start of negotiations with Europe, Programme Director at the Institute for Government Jill Rutter, summed up the feelings of urgency amongst the panel.

“Brexit is about to become really real.” 


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