How to Leverage UK Economic Growth: Positive Industry Policies and Deployment of Professional Interims?

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Regular readers of this blog might be getting a bit tired of me regularly banging on the drum about Professional Interims but please stay with me for the moment!

To remind you, recent posts have included:

This week the Chinese Premier visited the UK, starting at the Chinese owned MG plant in Oxford – the next day he and David Cameron announced a large trade deal but it seems that a few days later, Germany got a much bigger prize. This prompted me to think about constraints on UK exporting. Meanwhile, President Obama announced that the US must invest in manufacturing, especially cars, planes and wind turbines – this caused me to challenge a journalist on Twitter “whether the UK had an industry policy?” On a personal basis, I have continued with my “Catch 22 campaign” to try to get more professional interims into the Public Sector to help with transformation (delivery of reforms) – this has included numerous discussions with interim providers, other professional interims and the Cabinet Office. Meanwhile, I have followed other news about Government U-turns, lost stamina for reform etc. I also called Andrew Turner, a fellow professional interim to alert him that our joint blog “What’s the Difference between an Executive Interim & Management Consultant?” was still getting a large number of hits on a weekly basis. Andrew is a seasoned Interim Chief Executive, specializing in change management, business strategy and performance improvement.

Let me now try to weave a coherent thread here. Andrew spent much of his career overseas, especially in the Americas and we started taking about deploying interims to help businesses grow overseas markets, either with exports, acquisitions or joint ventures. A few days later, our thoughts had moved to scarcity of specialized resources to grow businesses. Andrew articulated the argument in a LinkedIn professional debate as follows:

Technology is driving the workplace towards ever more specialised segments. Whereas 20 years ago a specialism would encompass a fairly wide band of knowledge, today that band is being broken down into ever smaller subsets, creating specialists in each one of them. As a result, there is an accelerating trend towards organisations and people transferring tasks which are not part of their core competence to external skilled experts.

To clarify, this is not the same as outsourcing, where whole chunks of work are delegated to third parties to carry out more efficiently than would be the case if kept in-house. Rather, it is the transferring of peripheral activities to specialists (micro-specialists if you prefer) who can carry them out far more skilfully than we can. For example, who has ever spent time creating a mediocre PowerPoint presentation and wishing it could be done by a skilled show designer?

Perhaps this is what David Cameron had in mind when creating his vision of the “Big Society”? After all, government is just as affected as everyone else by this move towards specialisation; they cannot expect to be all things to all men, so perhaps professional interims can become the micro-specialists that support and give substance to the PM’s vision?

My “Catch 22 campaign” has convinced me that the Government, politicians and other stakeholders did not fully grasp the potential of professional interims – there is still too much dependency on consultants, in my view. I started thinking about how to try to convince the Government to adopt a positive industry policy towards professional interims?

At some stage in the week, the penny dropped and I realized that in comparison to China, France, Germany, USA, Russia etc. the UK Government did not have a positive industry policy. I have recently started reading Peter Mandelson’s book “The Third Man” and I suppose that I was sensitized to industrial policy (Peter Mandelson really has an expert grasp of this subject). Anyway, the hares really started running in my mind. I appreciate that George Osborne as a strong believer in neoliberal, monetarist economics probably does not have too much time for Keynesian interventions but surely industrial policy must be on Vince Cable’s radar, as well?

Given the editorial freedom of my own blog, this prompted me to hypothesize that:

In order to grow the UK economy more quickly, the Government needs to:

  1.  Articulate positively policies for all major industries
  2. Identify major resourcing constraints by major industry
  3. Identify support groups, like Professional Interims, that can help the Government identify, risk assess and implement the required changes and delivery programmes (highlighted as constraints under (2) above)
  4. Explore greater and more effective deployment of Professional Interims and Independent Consultants to design and deliver transformational change programmes cost effectively at the local and regional levels (Big Society), dovetailing with major consultancies operating at the national level 

Plan A Winners/Losers, Coalition Yin/Yang and Time for Plan B?

Last week’s US jobs data and today’s call in the Observer Newspaper from leading economists for a Plan B prompts me to share a few personal observations.

George Osborne’s Plan A has, by and large, been successful for large UK businesses: FTSE100 executives pay continues to climb and financial sector bonuses abound. Large businesses are sitting on vast cash reserves, have access to enormous borrowings (unlike small firms), and are continuing to run extremely lean, having outsourced and off-shored many non-essential jobs (this is especially significant in the US, where male employment opportunities in manufacturing and construction have effectively disappeared in a ten year decline).

The Plan A losers list is rather longer:

  • Record numbers of young people are excluded from the jobs market and risk having their futures’ blighted
  • Older workers who have been made redundant struggle to secure their economic futures without gainful employment
  • Record numbers of public sector workers lose their jobs as the economic squeeze tightens
  • Older retired people are seeing savings eroded with inflation and  probably suffer most from public services cuts
  • Current and future generations are facing pensions’ time-bombs, with prospects of inadequate income to cover their outgoings, forcing them into debt or to sell their homes, or economic dependency on family or state
  • Small businesses struggle against economic uncertainty and the big banks who have deprived them of finance

Plan A assumed Public Sector efficiencies, Private Sector growth and did not envision serious inflation in commodity prices. By and large, Public Sector funding cuts have led to reduction in front-line service, quality levels and capital investment for the future. Private sector growth has so far been a damp squib. Myopic policies from the Cabinet Office have deprived the economy of expertise to deliver enduring transformation, like professional interims. The Yin and Yang of the Conservatives and Liberals has so far stifled effective reform.

Fear of being treated like Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Iceland seems to be driving economic policy, where the neoliberal conservative policies of the IMF/ECB are causing vast hardship to the weaker members of society in these countries. For me, the only recent glimmer of common sense came from the Der Spiegel, when they proposed a Marshall Plan for Greece.

In my judgement Plan A was always too severe and should have been stretched over a longer time period (as proposed by the Labour Party – indeed the Obama administration has favoured the latter approach).

To reduce the pain and improve the chances of economic success in Plan B, I would propose less focus on neoliberal remedies, and to see Keynesian solutions given a chance, like properly validated capital spending programmes that will benefit future generations.

There is an opportunity for Nick Clegg to take the moral high ground in the Yin Yang of Plan B.