“Uncertainty over Brexit” is the bane of British business faced with Britain leaving the European Union, says David Stringer-Lamarre and he should know. His company, Fortis Consulting London, engages with arranging trade deals and helping companies understand and effectively engage with international markets all over the world and training multicultural teams in the UK. He is also Chair of the London Region of Britain’s prestigious Institute of Directors, popularly known as the IOD.
He has been involved with the IOD since 2008, first as Chair of the City of London branch and then of the London region and his key interest is to explore the current interests of Britain as a trading nation and what the future is likely to bring. Britain has always been a very open economy and the IOD offers a forum for discussion of international affairs and representing British business opinion to the British government.
The IOD is the top membership organisation engaging with government about business activity in the UK both for British business and foreign businesses with bases in London. It has 32,000 members in the UK and overseas, including 6,000 business leaders in London and in the City of London, the global financial centre, including banks, services, property, international trade, retail and some manufacturing. The IOD also has branches overseas and is part of the Global Network of Director’s Institutes in 18 countries. The IOD is very focused on governance, innovation and entrepreneurship and its prime concern, as David describes it is “to make business happen.” So what about his job? “My job, as Chair, London Region,” he says, “is to engage with members, engage with local government and with national government to talk about how business is engaging with society and how society is engaging with business. It’s also about raising issues of concern to British business about international trade and particularly, Brexit.”
So what is its influence? “The IOD is concerned to be a voice for business,” replies David. “Its concern is to make things happen.” It conducts monthly surveys to gauge the conditions of British business on the ground and feeds the results to policy decision makers. The IOD has its own policy team and the Director General is regularly engaging with all departments of government to ensure policy takes into account the real concerns of business in Britain and taking the right decisions concerning British business here and overseas.
One of the biggest issues is Brexit, the UK’s forthcoming departure from the EU. What is British business’s key concern? “I think British business is continually looking to see how to engage more fully with international markets,” replies David. “That includes the EU28, of which we are still a part,” he goes on, “but also Asia, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, the ASEAN countries and China and Japan. They are always evaluating where there can be beneficial trading relationships between UK businesses and international ones.” “The Middle East is clearly a key and growing area of great interest for businesses in Britain,” he adds. “I’ve chaired events here in the IOD with up to 250 business leaders keen to discuss the opportunities. It is interesting that Middle Eastern business shares this clear interest and is doing the same.”
What are the key concerns about Brexit? “Business is about certainty,” says David, “but what we have now is uncertainty. Every British business understands risk and they are definitely undertaking lots of scenario planning. If we were able to reduce the range of scenarios and decide that one or two scenarios were most likely, that would be very well received by British business,” he continues. “The challenge is this uncertainty element. In this post Brexit world, when it arrives, what will it look like and how can we adequately plan for it now? Can we still engage easily with EU countries, particularly in the service area? Can we still engage with other countries, particularly the Commonwealth countries and the USA? All these are still open questions at the moment. Companies work by week to week, month to month planning. They need answers now,” he adds. “This is the challenge.”
The recent “Chequers” proposal White Paper suggested free movement of goods and agricultural products between the EU, including Ireland, and the UK but ignored Britain’s all important financial services. What is David’s view, as an official in the IOD? “Anything that helps goods will be useful for “just-in-time” supply chains and especially overseas companies manufacturing in the UK as well as British companies are very concerned about that. That being said, services constitute 80% of the British economy and the City of London is the global financial centre. Our members are looking for clarity as to how close or divergent we are going to be with respect to services. Everything must be done to afford it access to European markets and global markets. We are competitive, we are durable, we are flexible but the service industries have to be in the forefront of discussions about the UK’s relations with Europe and the UK’s relationships with economies outside Europe.”
So finally, what is David’s attitude to the Brexit negotiations? Is it positive, negative or “Wait and see”? “Where we are at the moment is ongoing discussions, with British, European and international business all engaged in it. It’s a moving discussion, a moving target. The recent White Paper seemed to introduce an element of clarity with details being firmed up. As a general direction of travel that’s positive but I’m going to say judgement is being deferred as negotiations move forward in the coming days and weeks.”
You can watch the full interview here.