After last week’s turmoil, it looks like you’ve had another very difficult week!
I sincerely hope that you are coping with the competing pressures that you and your team are facing at the moment. I’m sure that you will agree, your performance over the past two weeks falls into the category of ‘could do better’ – and may have damaged your popularity and that of your political party.
Let’s start with the appalling and inexcusable death of George Floyd in Minnesota, US – reminding us of the systemic injustice that black and ethnic minorities continue to endure worldwide. The public outcry highlights the strength of feeling that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and that the culture of indifference towards bigotry and racism simply has to stop. Sadly, at a time when the UK public are looking for guidance, leadership and action from politicians, both you and your government have been ‘on the back-foot’ regarding this distressing incident. Ethnic and cultural diversity are hallmarks of our great country. Those who fail to embrace it risk a backlash from their stakeholders. The UK government is no different. So, please take every opportunity to challenge indifference, and demonstrate your true commitment to equality and fairness for all.
As the true impact of COVID-19 continue to reverberate, it is now becoming clear that the ‘political ceasefire’ we had seen throughout the recent crisis is very much over. Your grilling – from all quarters, including you own backbenchers– at PMQs this week was very telling. If I’m honest, I don’t think you dealt with it particularly well!
Most notably, your fractious exchange with Keir Starmer led to him gaining the moral high ground, when he rightly challenged you on understanding the difference between “scrutiny and attack”. As highlighted in my previous advisory notes, it has never been more important for leaders to collaborate. The fact that you allegedly failed to acknowledge or respond to the Labour leader’s letter – offering cross-party support to plan the reopening of schools – does appear somewhat misguided. If it was a genuine oversight, then I encourage you to show personal strength by acknowledging this and learning from it. Remember – great leaders surround themselves with people who don’t always think like they do!
You were also challenged this week on the inconsistency in the COVID-19 statistics, something also supported by the Head of Statistics at the ONS. The lack of contact tracing statistics data a week into this new “world leading system” is also causing ridicule. The lack of transparency and the apparent inconsistency of data, are both areas of concern that I have previously flagged to you. It’s time for you to nip these issues in the bud and get everyone speaking ‘one version of the truth’ when it comes to the data.
Looking at the UK economy, the impact of the lockdown on the job market is becoming visible. It is now understood that about a third of the UK’s 33m workforce were being supported by the government last month – through a combination of the furlough scheme, self-employment income support or universal credit. In addition, a further third were working from home – leaving just one third of the UK workforce at their workplace.
Hopefully, this will improve as the lockdown restrictions continue to be eased. However, be very clear that the huge contraction in the economy, coupled with continued social distancing and public transport restrictions, will reduce employment opportunities in the short to medium term. To support this, Goldman Sachs has this week estimated that the unemployment rate would have reached 25% by now, had the government support not been in place. The good news is that the UK’s does have a very flexible labour market. Whilst it will not be enough to address the expected rise in unemployment, it could prove to be a source of strength as the UK innovates and grows its way out of the crisis.
Importantly, we all know that funding from the ‘public coffers’ is limited, so the recent announcement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to gradually reduce the level of support makes absolute sense. However, do think about extending the support for certain sectors such as tourism, travel and hospitality – that in truth will struggle to recover until next year at the earliest. With more than 70 UK travel companies writing to the Home Secretary this week to abandon plans for the two-week quarantine for travellers, it is inevitable that further negative impacts will be seen across these sectors.
Keeping your ‘feet on the ground, and your eyes on the hills’ is so important. With that in mind, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has this week indicated that the EU would consider an extension of up to two years to the existing Brexit transition period. We also heard from the Head of the British International Freight Association this week, warning that the government is falling behind in training the new customs officials needed. In addition, the Global Chief Operating Officer at Nissan has confirmed that the Sunderland plant – and supporting UK supply chain – is at major risk if additional tariffs are imposed from January next year. With just over six months to go to the end of the Brexit transition period, you need to be super confident that the pursuit of an acceptable trading arrangement with the EU is receiving the right focus.
So, lots for you to reflect on this coming weekend Boris. Whilst all is not lost, it is time for some ‘deep soul-searching’. Please press the pause button, think about how you and your team have performed – consider what now needs to stop, what needs to start and what needs to continue. Above all else, please think about how you regain authenticity as a leader – starting with some honesty, humility, positive action and by instilling a true sense of hope in our collective future.
Take good care – reflect well – stay safe!
Ian Jones – Your Critical Friend!