The tale of Chicken Little was a Kelly bedtime story favourite – and in recent days in post-referendum Britain, some of our leaders seem to have taken a lead from the famous farmyard fable.
In the story, Chicken Little causes mayhem and hysteria when he is convinced that an acorn falling on his head is the sky falling in. He runs around the village persuading others than disaster is imminent, and – depending on which version of the fable you read – either becomes the hero of the village or leads the hysterical crowds to a terrible end.
One thing is for sure –prolonged hysteria and uncertainty helps no-one. And since the UK voted on June 23rd, we have seen a similar ripple effect in the commentary of economic prospects.
This hasn’t been helped by the lack of leadership I’ve talked about in my blog.
I called for confidence and certainty where possible from our political leaders. Why did politicians take so long to reassure EU nationals that they would have the right to remain in the UK? I received heart-breaking emails from colleagues across Sage, who worried about what this would mean for their families. I’ve been approached by colleagues in tears, worried about their UK status. Here’s an excerpt from one:
‘The Brexit has potential implications for me and my family. We are German passport holders only, and have been UK residents since 2000. Sage originally brought me over on a secondment scheme. The option available to us are essentially a) Naturalisation i.e. dual citizenship, b) Repatriation, c) Wait and see’.
I’m so pleased that we now have some clarity on this important issue – I am relieved that the politicians vying to be our next Prime Minister have chosen against using human beings as bargaining chips in any future EU negotiations. Now we also need to see big businesses step up and show leadership – not be the Chicken Littles of the village.
We have many bridges to cross and the EU journey is likely to take years, based on the history of EU negotiations. In a time of uncertainty, we need clarity where light can be shone and in business, we need to provide calm and responsible leadership.
It was disheartening to see some big multinational businesses announcing post June 23rd that they will be withdrawing investment or jobs from the UK. Particularly, for example, some of the world’s biggest banks who have been working so hard to rebuild trust since the 2008 financial crisis.
Of course, I appreciate that every business must plan for the best interests of its customers, colleagues and shareholders. But these announcements – without a clear view of how the coming months and years will pan out – only serve to add to the confusion and anxiety.
But in the real economy, nothing has changed apart from sentiment and the value of the pound, and as I have flagged before, with a cheaper pound, history suggests inward investment in UK will increase. I would call on businesses to focus on their customers and employees rather than destabilise loyal long-term employees into worrying about their location, future and families. And we must avoid a rush to ‘Blame Brexit’ for everything.
The customers Sage serves, those Small & Medium Businesses that make up 98% of all businesses, and create two thirds of all jobs, don’t have the option to just shut up shop, cut headcount or close offices. They soldier on – great to see that the latest stats we have on new business creation show that we currently have the highest number ever – standing at just under 4m. These guys will keep on serving customers and keeping our economy alive and vibrant. It would be much better for our economy and for our chances of avoiding a self-fulfilling prophecy if big business could adopt the same approach.
Big businesses set the tone for mainstream commentary and should be leading the way, using their voice and clout to spread positivity and certainty where reasonable – not to perpetuate fears that the sky is falling in. In the current political vacuum, we need our Business Leaders to be heroes in their villages.