A tale of two cities; reflections on the Autumn Statement

Having returned to my desk after our Annual Conference, on the day of what we now know is to be the last Autumn Statement, I was struck by the stark contrast in the two events.

At our Conference in Birmingham I was in the company of almost 650 wonderful employee owners who were optimistic, collaborative, passionate and purposed about how to deliver better business. This annual gathering is the highlight of the employee ownership year, and is the biggest opportunity each year to focus attention on a part of the economy worth over £30bn, and at 4%, makes a larger contribution to GDP than agriculture.

Tuning in to view coverage of the Autumn Statement later that day however, the audience was greeted by 650 people in the heart of the city of London involved in the usual array of shouting, scepticism and division, more shouting and very little common endeavour.

Thankfully my day recovered as I spent the early evening enthralled by a discussion streamed live and chaired by the RSA’s thoughtful Matthew Taylor with three leading voices in the vibrant economy, and all each members of the EOA; the John Lewis Partnership Chair Sir Charlie Mayfield, Grant Thornton’s Sacha Romanovitch and Saxton Bampfylde’s Stephen Bampfylde.

What struck me in these contrasting experiences was that the gathering in Westminster believe in the power of the sticks and carrots of legislation, taxes and grants to seek to change behaviours, in the hope that they can support economic success.

The other two believe in the power of people.

However, I was encouraged to hear three key announcements in the Autumn statement which do take due consideration of the power of people to create, lead, manage and deliver a better future.

Firstly the Employee Shareholder Status (ESS) is no more. This divisive and short sighted policy, which so many of us in the employee ownership world rejected has been seen for what it was; a route to reduce taxes and not a way to engage employees in a meaningful way.  Whilst every employee owned business paid little respect to it when it was introduced by the previous Chancellor, ESS was a distraction to the authentic values of employee ownership and I am delighted that the new Chancellor has taken advice to end its existence.

Secondly I was delighted to hear that there will be £13m of investment made available for the recommendations of the recent Productivity Review to be acted upon.  This important review highlights the importance of leadership, amongst other things, in the delivery of a more productive economy and under the leadership of Sir Charlie Mayfield, it has great opportunity to make a real difference.

And finally the announcement of a review into patient capital in order to identify the barriers to access long term finance for growing firms has the potential to be a positive for the employee ownership sector where the availability of a range of different finance options has been a long standing frustration.

Budgets and fiscal statements are important, but they are simply stopping points in the annual cycle of national financial planning and inevitably each time they happen, there are winners and losers. However, the potential power of people inside enterprises and businesses endures and is recognised by every employee owned business as the route to deliver better business – for the organisation, the employee and the economy.

I therefore vote for the power of people every time!