An opportunity to redefine UK business for a generation

Yesterday I participated in a roundtable hosted by Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street with representatives from UK business. In attendance were also Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Margot James, Minister for the profession. 

This was an opportunity to reflect on the last few months and consider the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for UK business. It was also an opportunity for me to highlight ICAEW’s priorities in a number of areas in advance of the Brexit negotiations.

Britain and Europe

The Prime Minister was very clear that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March 2017. Britain’s relationship with the EU is going to change – indeed it has already changed. What is key is that we turn this into a positive – we need to ensure Britain is the best place to found and operate a business.

I believe that in order to achieve this we must escape the narrow mind-set that the UK’s options are limited to the ways in which other nations relate to the EU. So far, the commentary has focussed on the single market and the customs union. We are asked to consider whether we prefer the 'Swiss Deal', the 'Norway Model' or even the 'Canada Option'. But the UK is not Switzerland, Norway or Canada. What we must achieve is something unique – a British deal.

Business and the economy

During the discussion I highlighted that the more influence Britain has, the more business opportunities will come. Currently, there is a lot of focus on driving exports, across businesses of all sizes and sectors. Our members advise and lead 2 million businesses across the UK, and we are in a good position to understand the challenges facing small businesses.

I emphasised that we are concerned about the increase in regulation on small businesses and that the number of regulations being introduced are placing an unnecessary burden on businesses in these uncertain times.

Corporate governance

I encouraged the Prime Minister to press ahead with her promise to have workers represented on company boards, and to make the most of this opportunity to modernise UK corporate governance.

As I highlighted in my letter to the Telegraph yesterday, when the Cadbury Code was drawn up at our headquarters in 1992, it was highly controversial and faced spirited opposition. Yet for a listed company today to ignore its principles would be unthinkable and I do believe that in another 25 years, we will hold the changes that emerge from this process to be as self-evident as the Cadbury Code is today.

I also made it clear that ICAEW would welcome the opportunity to work with Government to develop a code for larger private businesses based on the Audit Firm Governance Code, which we helped to draw up seven years ago.

It was good to get the Prime Minister’s take on the Government’s plan for an industrial strategy for the 21st century. I am heartened that they are committed to making the UK the best place in the world to do business. Whatever happens in 2017, we, the profession, need to get behind them and help them get on with the job.