Rising to the challenges of Brexit

One month on from the EU referendum, with its narrow but decisive result in favour of leaving, many argue that ‘it’s too early to tell’ what it means for UK business. 

The new Government’s negotiating position has yet to be clarified. Many business leaders are keeping their heads down and saying little.

We may be in what one MCA Board member has described as the ‘phoney war’, waiting for the enormity, variability and long-term nature of this change to become clear.

But ‘it’s too early to tell’ is not good enough for UK management consulting firms. Characteristically, many of them turned immediately on 24th June to the needs of their clients.

Some of the larger consulting firms, for instance, have held a series of briefing webinars for the client community. All our member firms are looking at the macro-economic context and how it has changed, with forecasts now showing lower economic growth in 2017 and beyond.

Consultancies are working with clients to prepare them so that they have the best possible options when decisions need to be made.

They are helping clients explore how changes in trade rules and regulations could affect their business models. They are helping businesses understand what is at stake as the UK formulates our exit strategy and the factors that could impact them, both negatively and positively.

One of consulting’s major clients, of course, is government itself, now faced with a huge added set of tasks and challenges. The new Prime Minister has re-shuffled and re-organised the Cabinet, with a number of new Departments and the re-orientation of others.

These are challenges of ideas and capacity. For example, the civil service is well-aware that it will need to recruit and have access to additional skills, particularly around international trade, negotiations and regulatory reform. Over the coming months, the MCA will be in touch with all departments involved in and affected by Brexit, including via the Professional and Business Services Council.

And we know that the Brexit workload is being added on to a government machinery that is, in any case, facing massive transformational challenges and stress as a result of last year’s Spending Review and the impact of digital technologies.

MCA members will be prominent in helping government rise to these challenges over the next few years. I was therefore delighted recently to receive enthusiastic support for the MCA’s Consulting Excellence scheme and campaign from the Cabinet Office.

Indeed, it is more important than ever, in a climate of general disquiet and distrust, for industries to stand up clearly in public for their values and commitments. Consulting Excellence is the right idea at the right time.

Looking more widely, many clients will be facing significant talent and HR challenges. The financial services sector, for instance, employs huge numbers of EU nationals, as does the NHS. Many of these employees are concerned about their future in the UK. They need re-assurances that they are wanted and some guarantees about their long-term status.

Employers, too, are anxious about their ability to attract these talented people in future and what additional controls on migration the government may propose.

Business will do much of the heavy lifting over the next few years as the UK comes to terms with this decision. And consulting has a special role to play.

Consulting is THE industry that reaches all parts of our economy and society, drives innovation and change, and mobilises talent and expertise. Our industry helps businesses and public institutions negotiate ambiguity and uncertainty. Never has that capability been needed more.

Consulting is also able to play a key role in stimulating the public policy and economic reform that is needed to spread prosperity more fairly around the UK and build a more robust and successful society. These issues now loom large given the degree to which the Brexit vote’s regional distribution was indicative of economic and social alienation. The MCA will be pressing ahead on these agendas in coming months.

UK consulting is a major strength for our country. The UK has become a powerful international hub for expert and value-adding work, helping clients to grow and to change. Access to markets overseas, and the ability to build multi-national teams of consultants are essential to that success. 

So we will be working with our government and others so that, whatever conditions are imposed on us, MCA members can thrive and deliver real benefits to their clients.

Yes, it may be ‘too early to tell’. But it’s certainly not too early to act.