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Looking for the upside in an unedifying referendum, David Smith, Economics Editor, The Sunday Times

June 2016


There will be some people reading this for whom the EU referendum is the moment they been waiting for, and who have been following every detail of the campaign with fascination. But I suspect they will be overwhelmingly outnumbered by the majority, for whom June 23 cannot come soon enough, and for whom the campaign has become a tit-for-tat turn-off.

I cannot remember a campaign that has been so cavalier in its use of facts, and I have to say that most of the misbehaviour has been on the Vote Leave side, I hope it is a one-off but it may be the shape of things to come. The kind of politics that helped Donald Trump to the Republican nomination in America may be becoming universal.

Has anything good come out of this referendum campaign? I wrote last month about the impact that uncertainty ahead of the vote has had on the economy. Markit, which produces the monthly purchasing managers’ surveys, says a third of businesses across the manufacturing, construction and service sectors report that Brexit fears have a had a detrimental effect on activity in recent months. The hope is that this just reflects a postponement of sales and deals. The fear is that at least some of it is gone permanently.

Many in business would thus have preferred not to have this referendum. I suspect that is true of many voters too. Until people realised they had a vote on it (many still do not realise), Europe was not high on the list of popular concerns. EU membership was just a fact of life. If we were to move from that to a vote to leave, it would be a pretty remarkable change, though it is perfectly possible. It is also the case that, as low turnout figures in European parliament elections keep demonstrating, people are not terribly engaged in the EU sovereignty issue.

As one illustration, just over a year ago I was asked to chair a discussion on the EU, timed to coincide with the publication of a new book on Europe. It was not a huge venue – a central London bookshop – but, despite a lot of publicity, had to be cancelled for lack of interest. Britain’s general election campaign, which was happening at the same time, was a bigger draw.

So has any good come out of all this? It has, I think, made us think more about the EU, and what we get out of it. While I believe the benefits of being in the EU – the single market, our high levels of foreign direct investment, etc – far outweigh the costs, the campaign has demonstrated that not everybody sees these things the same way. On immigration in particular, the economic benefits are for many voters more than outweighed by the social consequences. Even though the employment rate among UK-born people has never been higher, the perception is that EU workers take the jobs of Britons, as well as putting pressure on housing and public services. We need to learn from that, and that what works for the economy does not necessarily work for everybody in it. People in large swathes of the country feel the system lets them down.

That relates to a wider point, which is what the referendum has revealed about attitudes to business, particularly big business. People reading this will have different views on the in-out question but business surveys have shown that a clear balance of firms large and small is in favour of continued EU membership. What is good for business is normally good for the country.

Many voters, however, do not see it that way. Businesses are seen as favouring membership because it gives them access to a supply of cheap labour. When banks warn that leaving would mean jobs being shifted to the rest of Europe, some voters say “good riddance”. We know we are living in a time in which anti-establishment views are in vogue. It is also clear that anti-business attitudes are quite popular.

US Business Panel Research on Career Planning

June 2016

report-cover.pngThe panel see their main strengths as being a strategic thinker as well as team / people management.  Over 60% of them also feel they have the ability to motivate and inspire others, as opposed to 3% who feel they can’t.

Asked if they felt their career would benefit from any training, the top 2 choices were increased numeracy/financial ability and leadership training.

The three qualities the panel rate highest in a good CEO are the ability to motivate and inspire others, being a strategic thinker and team and people management. 
The highest proportion of the panel would replace some or all of their senior management team if they were to become CEO!  Just under a third would also increase all staff incentivization.
Respondents have been in their current position for an average of 5.8 years.

The main criteria when potentially joining a new organization is for the nature of the opportunity offered and the improved financial reward.

Networking has influenced most of the panel’s career moves.

The highest proportion of the panel see their next job as a more senior position within a different organization (to the one they’re with now).

FinTech & The Disruption of Banking, TomorrowToday

June 2016

TomorrowToday---Fintech-and-the-Disruption-of-Banking---May-2016b-1.pngThe Fintech revolution is part of a broader phenomenon known as the Digital Economy, orientated around the internet, social technology and the automated Internet of Things. Within the next three years, this revolution will have taken shape.

Many of the early innovators will have failed, but banks will be radically changed. TomorrowToday Global have produced a unique white paper for the 9th Richmond Financial Industry Forum in Switzerland looking at Fintech & The Disruption of Banking.


The silent sickness in the workplace, Nick Turner

June 2016

Mental-health-icon-800px.pngIn the UK between May 16th and May 22nd Mental Health Awareness Week was a well reported, and widely published event that had surprisingly detailed support throughout the media from the BBC to the national newspapers.

I say “surprising” because the UK, in particular has been notorious for its failure to accept mental illness with any degree of sensitivity or understanding, and nowhere so obviously failing as the workplace.
Mental health is a taboo, at its worst treated with derision and at best completely misunderstood.

“ A man goes to see a psychiatrist and tells him, I feel like I am a pair of curtains…..”Pull yourself together”, replies the psychiatrist.”

“ Stress is a luxury that the employed can afford but the self employed cannot”

It is a fact of life across the industrialised world that people employed in the public sector have more recorded days off work with stress related illness than those in the private sector.

Is this a symptom of less accountability and lack of self responsibility in the public sector or is it a criticism of the private sector, and its lack of recognition of mental illness?

Amongst the numerous features devoted to Mental Health Awareness was a particularly interesting interview with Alastair Campbell, former Downing Street Press Secretary, to Tony Blair between 1997 and 2000.

Campbell for more than 20 years had been suffering from undiagnosed  manic depression. For years he had refused medical help, seeing his condition as personal and hiding it with heavy drinking, and failing to even acknowledge that there was, maybe, a serious mental health issue.

The US Richmond Business Confidence Index

June 2016

In terms of their own organizations, 30% are very optimistic, whilst a further 45% are quite optimistic.  This leaves 25% who are not very optimistic and 0% who are not at all optimistic about their organization’s prospects.

There’s much less optimism for either the US or world economies.  Only 9% are very optimistic for the US economy (and 4% for the world economy); though more indicate they are quite optimistic (55% US and 31% world).

In terms of headcount, the figures for department and organization differ quite substantially.  A higher number are predicting an increase for their organization’s headcount compared to their own department.  Clearly a case of them, not us? 


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