Tom Aldred, Head of Growth Economics, HM Treasury
Professor Jonathan Haskel, Chair in Economics, Imperial College Business School.
Talks were followed by a group discussion over dinner. Please note the discussion was held under Chatham House Rules and so some subjects have been omitted.
Tom Aldred, Head of Growth Economics at HM Treasury, was optimistic when the question “What does the Treasury think of Brexit?” was levelled at him on earlier this month at our first Exec Insights Dinner of the year. He was keen to stress the potential benefits of a more remote relationship with Europe, siting a chance to establish a new, unconstrained industrial strategy and modern trading arrangements. He was eager to emphasise the open nature of the negotiations and that big business had a role to play in these deliberations if they were willing to step up to the plate.
Many in the room however – amid them voices from Telecommunications and the Energy sectors – were vocal about the damaging rhetoric that had surrounded immigration throughout the campaign and which continues to be promoted globally via the US election and the rise of far right parties across Europe. Amongst these global companies, who rely on recruiting the brightest minds to drive technical innovation, there was a palpable unease that the rhetoric may translate to immigration laws, materially affecting their skill base. At Imperial – where 10% of funding comes from the EU – the biggest uncertainty remains the substantial task of keeping brilliant European minds within our laboratories.
There were questions surrounding the internal displacement of government and corporate investment within the UK too. The spectres of the Northern Powerhouse, the end of a London-centric island and the further devolution of power throughout the Kingdom also appeared, drawing mixed reactions.
Professor Jonathan Haskel, our other keynote speaker of the night, started a parallel strand of discussion by raising the question of how competitor regulators might approach the knowledge economy in the future. As we begin to think about intangibles, the traditional divide between Manufacturing and Service industries melts away – see Uber or Facebook as prime example – and digital super-companies run the risk of becoming unregulated islands. Government ministers, he suggested, need to have a more dextrous approach to the issue of competitor regulation to make sure these remain fairly regulated enterprises.
Large, knowledge-intensive structure such as Instagram, he continued, also have phenomenal levels of engagement but operate with relatively low staff. As a result, they are considered incredibly productive. With such high levels of traction, other companies are left wondering, what makes them tick and how can we also be a powerful frontier company?
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