Andrew Dakers’ reflections on Grenfell, trust in society and Brexit at the WLB House of Commons Summer Reception


6 July 2017

Good evening.

I’m Andrew Dakers, Chief Executive of West London Business, and it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the beautiful setting of the House of Commons on this lusciously warm summers evening.

As always I am particularly pleased to welcome those of you joining us for the first time; as well as longstanding friends and supporters of WLB.

For those of you new to West London Business, our purpose is to ensure that West London stays the best place to do business.  Our members commit to work together to drive forward the sub-region’s global economic competitiveness whilst pursuing social and environmental sustainability.

We of course meet against a backdrop of a particularly challenging few months for the country and West London.

Sadly at the last minute events have transpired that mean our host Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham & Heston, can’t be with us ….so it falls to me to briefly share a few reflections on the current political situation – before I then hand over to guest speakers, board colleagues and entrepreneurs that I have no doubt will leave you fired up and thoroughly inspired as to the extraordinary ventures our community is continuing to initiate.

***

Delivering the bad news seems to be department tonight.

Grenfell

Without wishing to prejudge the conclusions of the Grenfell inquiry, the initial indications are that the disaster will give us good cause to reconsider how we prioritise funding decisions, our approach to Building Regulation and perhaps more fundamentally what responsible leadership means in practice if we are to stop all too often ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.  Grenfell will be a scar on our West London landscape for a long time to come – but far more significantly, as a scar on our consciences, it must give us the impetus to be far more ambitious in addressing social issues and improving governance.

I know many of our partner local authorities rushed to provide mutual aid to Kensington & Chelsea.   I know several of our member companies stepped forward to assist with McDonalds feeding hundreds in the immediate aftermath, but these band aids alone will not help rebuild a far wider collapse in trust in our institutions be they government or business.

Trust in society

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 revealed the largest-ever drop in trust across the UK’s institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media fell from 36 to 24 percent, trust levels in government fell from 36 to 26 percent and trust in NGOs from 50 to 32 percent.    It should focus our minds tonight that trust in business fell from 46 to 33 percent.

How West London Business responds to this evaporation of trust in society and helps rebuild confidence in business as a force for good is front of mind as the WLB board writes a new business plan for 2017-20.   We will have more to share at our AGM in September but in the meantime if you have ideas you would like to discuss please contact me – or any other member of the board or staff team.

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So finally Brexit.

For West London’s businesses, it is vital the new Government moves to limit uncertainty and maximise opportunity during the Brexit process.   In the coming days business leaders will call on ministers to indefinitely delay Britain’s departure from the single market and customs union.

Since July 2016 WLB’s hospitality sector members, for example, reported finding it harder to recruit from other European countries as the pound weakened and the value of remittances home reduced.

Meeting recently with Sir Keir Starmer in West London our members highlighted and I quote:

  • “20 per cent of academics employed in UK universities are EU citizens. They’re already choosing not to come to West London, not because they don’t know if they will be able to stay but because they feel unwelcomed.”
  • “50% of employees [of our West London architecture practice] are from the EU. We have worked hard with EU universities to attract the best talent. We need that to be competitive. …On the one hand we need to build more houses and buildings, but on the other hand we may not have the skilled workforce we need to achieve that under Brexit.”

Suggestions from the business community to address the labour supply risk to the capital’s economy includes a London Visa.

Recent workshops in West London suggest a large number of businesses have still not planned at all for different Brexit scenarios.  One area of particular concern for small-medium sized businesses is that on Brexit, a customs border might appear overnight between the UK and the EU which may present a significant cost – particularly for smaller transactions.

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On a more positive note, there are opportunities we must continue to chase…

Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign Direct Investment continues to flow.  West London is strong for private schools, top end universities, personal safety, as well as prime property and our cultural offer, with easy access to the City centre and Heathrow.

The only real competition for lifestyle in the European context comes from Paris.

The annual property holding cost for London is relatively low compared to other global cities.   Our close proximity to the coast and sub-marine underwater fibre-optic cables also gives us a competitive advantage.

Export growth

The West London business community must also grasp the opportunity – particularly with a very diverse, internationally connected community – to grow our exports.

West London is home to Heathrow – Britain’s largest port by value.  95% of Heathrow’s freight travels in the belly-hold of passenger aircraft.  In 2015, Heathrow handled imports and exports valued at over £130bn, making up over 30% of total UK trade and more than the UK’s two biggest shipping ports – Felixstowe and Southampton – combined.

In response West London Business and Hounslow Chamber of Commerce have established the West London Export Club: www.westlondonexport.org.uk. The export club signposts SMEs to opportunities such as: Trade Missions, training workshops and conferences, and Online resources.

Enough Brexit talk, but please do take every opportunity in the weeks ahead to engage with your constituency MPs, neighbours and colleagues in the ongoing debate – clearly not over – as to the eventual shape of our future relationship with the European Union.

Be in no doubt that these are probably the most critical times for our society and business community since the end of the second world war.

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It is now my great pleasure to hand over to Des Martin, Marketing Director at Perkbox; and Julian Redwood, Senior Manager Tax, PwC to say a few words as our sponsors tonight.   We are hugely grateful for your support without which we couldn’t contemplate convening tonight’s gathering.

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