Business, social enterprises & charities must find new ways of working with Boris’ government

13 Dec 2019

Boris Johnson’s huge General Election victory is good news for the political stability and support business needs to succeed. Government will now continue to be a strong support for innovation and enterprise. The principles of the free market and free flowing trade will be re-affirmed in the corridors of power across Whitehall. The fundamental threat posed by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, with the crushing threat to jobs and wealth creation that it represented, has been resoundingly seen off. For those running and employed by businesses of all shapes and sizes – which is the vast majority of us – the Conservative victory is very welcome indeed.

Not only businesses of course compete in the market place. Social enterprises and, although they frequently bridle at the suggestion, so do charities. Charities compete for donations, for public sector contracts to deliver government services at home and overseas, and for our attention and support.

Business – small, medium and large – as well as social enterprises and charities all operate in various ways in the framework of the free market and enterprise culture. There is huge inter-dependence and co-operation between these sectors and interests. They all form part of the enterprise economy which has helped to sustain Britain’s vibrant economy. Far too often business and charities allow themselves to be talked about as though they are  monoliths, with one set of demands and needs. This approach of talking about British business and charities as though they are one big block has done increasing harm to their interests and has led to an increasingly fractious relationship with politicians of all stripes, and in particular with the governments of David Cameron and Theresa May. It is a trap businesses and charities of all shapes and sizes need to recognise and avoid.

Establishing the right tone and tenor in any relationship is key to its success. In recent years significant business voices have consistently struck the wrong tone with government. Ever since the Brexit referendum it has been clear a significant shift in British politics was underway. Politicians respond to as well as lead political weather changes. Britain is not alone in experiencing such a change. France, Italy, Spain and Germany are all close neighbours undergoing political upheaval. In the United States President Trump is a manifestation of a similar political sea change. Further afield and Australia too has undergone a period of political challenge as its politicians adjust to the changing priorities of voters. Britain therefore is not an outlier in this process, it is very much in the main stream of broader events.

Boris has consistently confounded his critics, firstly in winning and holding the London Mayoralty, then leading the winning side in the Brexit referendum, and now as an election winning Prime Minister. He is deadly serious about winning and about governing. That means all those who need government support, help, legislative and policy co-operation – which is essentially most of us in one form or another – now need to think afresh about how we approach the new government. Hectoring government about various policies or initiatives rarely works, and is never the prescription for a good relationship. Adopting the tone of “we need to educate them” – a phrase too often used by those who do not understand government, politicians and their officials – needs to be ditched. In its place not a subservient acquiescence but a recognition government comes with a mandate to deliver on a set of policies and the canny leader of an organisation works out how to achieve where possible what they want and make it as consistent as possible with the policies of the government.

It seems likely the government will move swiftly on its agenda. Brexit obviously comes top of the list of things to do. Hard on its heels is likely to come a significant programme of reform which is likely to include: reform of the House of Lords, significant devolution of powers to the regions, reform of the delivery of public services, the reinvigoration of markets in key sectors, a fresh look at corporate governance, targeting greater support for small and medium size enterprise, delivering improved schools and medical services, an overhaul of Whitehall and its departments. It’ll be a big programme delivered by the big Commons majority.

In his victory speech Boris explicitly spoke about and thanked those who had voted for him, many for the first time, and his intention to deliver for them. He demonstrated a clear understanding this will require new policies, increased investment, and a need to deliver for those areas that need it most. The electorate has a way of attracting their politician’s attention. The electorate certainly has Boris’s attention, now business and charities need to think again how they respond to a swiftly moving political world.

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