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Economic reality risks ruining the party games

Inflation down (3.2 per cent), wage growth up (6 per cent) and economic growth restored (0.6 per cent GDP growth over Q1) – so are champagne corks popping in Downing Street? Put the bubbly back on ice. Firstly, “we’re no longer in recession” isn’t the rallying cry some people think it is, and the rapid pace of wage growth – while undoubtedly good news for workers – is actually ringing alarm bells in some quarters given the impact it might have on inflation and, therefore, interest rates. The UK unemployment rate is also ticking steadily up, with the hundreds of thousands of long-term sick now almost certain to become Labour’s problem. The government’s message is understandable; stick with us, the plan is working, don’t risk it by letting Labour back in. The problem is, this approach is akin to standing in the middle of a biblical flood and telling everyone that you think the sun is beginning to burn through the cloud. They might be pleased to see it, but they have more immediate concerns. 

In 1997 the opinion polls were clear that John Major was facing electoral defeat, with Tony Blair’s New Labour poised for power. The fact that Major could point to an economic rising tide made no difference to his fortunes and he ultimately bequeathed one of the best economic legacies to his successor. The data might have painted a decent picture but the public were in no mood to reward the Tories. They’d been in power for too long, they were riddled with internal divisions, their Prime Minister (despite electoral success in 1992) was gravely weakened, the party’s reputation for economic competence had been undermined by events and the mood of the country had shifted. Is history about to repeat itself? 

It’s even possible that a narrative of economic revival benefits the opposition more than the government, adding to a sense of renewal and a change of direction rather than shoring up the incumbents. But other than some modest GDP growth and a more temperate inflationary environment, what kind of economy would a Labour government inherit?

That the Conservatives have made some economic missteps is not in doubt, but none have been as consequential as the cost of the pandemic. We don’t like to talk about it these days, but the government’s pandemic response came with a price tag approaching £400bn. In 2020/21 the state spent £200bn more than it had budget for. This is to say nothing of the cost to the Treasury from the wider economic collapse, the loss of growth and the deep economic scarring, and it doesn’t take into account the many tens of billions then spent in response to the global energy price shock. This is real money and the consequences of such unprecedented expenditure will be felt for decades, most immediately in the form of higher taxes – regardless of who wins the election. 

So, while the Tories can forget about voters rewarding them for a modest uptick in public finances, so too can Labour dismiss the idea that they’ll be able to turn on the spending taps the moment they take office. After the 2010 general election the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury left a note for his Conservative successor; “sorry there’s no money left.” The current occupant of that office might very well end up reaching for the same sentiment.

Given that Labour has ruled out any hikes to income tax, the smart money says they’ll be looking at raising revenue through relatively less politically sensitive reforms in areas such as wealth, property, inheritance, dividends and capital gains. All governments sneak in stealth taxes. Gordon Brown was famous for it and the current government has allowed fiscal drag to do the heavy lifting. If Labour do target wealth, capital and dividends for tax increases will they do it without fanfare or instead seek to benefit from the political dividing line that such moves would open up? 

As the election approaches the Conservatives will continue to treat the economic recovery like a Ming vase – “don’t let anyone else touch it” – but we also know they’d like to make a big retail offer on tax cuts, whether ahead of the election or as a future aspiration. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt dipped his toe in these waters with hints about a potential abolition of National Insurance at some point in the future, but the idea has allowed Labour to warn about the “black hole” such a move would produce in the public finances. In short, we’re starting to see the coming economic debate take shape, but we should all keep a close eye on the details and take any pre-election promise with a pinch of salt. The parties may feel liberated by the rush of political battle but they will be constrained by economic reality.

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Hawthorn budget analysis: May election unlikely, but traps set for Labour

With tetchy exchanges and party tribalism on full display, the spring budget was an insight into the year to come. Set against a gloomy economic backdrop, the Chancellor tried to draw a clear line between the Conservatives and Labour ahead of the looming election.

Beset by pressures from within his own party, Hunt was obliged to find tax cuts. With forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) giving less fiscal headroom than hoped, rumoured plans for a 1-2p cut to income tax were shelved in favour of a 2p national insurance.

He argued that tax cuts have only been affordable because of the government’s approach to tackling inflation. Inflation is now predicted to fall back to the 2% target by Q2 2024, a full year earlier than predicted. Now that wage growth is outstripping inflation, the Conservatives will want to wait until autumn to call an election. This will buy time for voters to start feeling better off.

High Growth Sectors

Hunt focused on reforms in areas he has described as high-growth industries of the future – financial services, life sciences, technology and the creative industries. These areas will be a significant focus of the government over the coming months, with consultations and proposals to be outlined in more detail. He announced several pro-investment reforms, including changes to pension investment and the next stages of the LIFTS initiative. He also launched a consultation on a new platform to allow private companies to trade their securities, known as PISCES. Continuing the successful policies of providing tax cuts for the filming industry first introduced by George Osborne, Hunt announced a further £1 billion of new tax reliefs for the UK’s world-leading creative industries.

The Economic Outlook

The bigger picture challenge for the Chancellor is whether these tax cuts are realistic. The OBR has warned that current spending plans carried a level of “uncertainty”, as much of the new spending is funded by assumed departmental savings to the tune of £19 billion for unprotected public services, a figure the Resolution Foundation has described as a “fiscal fiction”. This will cause challenges for the next government, whatever its colour, as departments find their already tight budgets stretched even more thinly. More big tax cuts or spending increases in the coming years are now off the table. In stark contrast to Labour’s inheritance in 1997, where they could increase National Insurance specifically to fund NHS pledges, a prospective Labour government in 2024 would not have ample fiscal headroom to spend on public services without significant tax hikes – an argument Labour doesn’t appear to want to have.  

Hunt’s changes to the non-dom tax relief and extension of the windfall tax are an attempt to make up this shortfall whilst laying dangerous traps for Labour. By stealing two of the Shadow Chancellor’s tax-raising ideas, Labour’s room to call for increased spending has been snatched away. Labour is extremely cautious about making spending commitments, with the most notable example being the recent U-turn on a commitment to spend £28bn a year on a green prosperity plan. This was swiftly followed by an announcement to increase the windfall tax, much to the dismay of the oil and gas industry.

In this context, the Chancellor’s plan hasn’t been without risk, he was immediately criticised by Energy Minister Andrew Bowie after extending the windfall tax on oil and gas. This blue-on-blue is a flavour of what may be to come as Conservative party discipline continues to break down under the pressure of poor polling results.

What does this mean for Labour?

Labour’s ‘Ming Vase’ strategy – placing caution over passionate campaigning – is now ingrained in the Opposition’s strategy, and Starmer’s pitch at the election will reflect this. Whilst some consider it dispassionate, it may help to carefully maintain Labour’s significant polling lead as the election grows closer. The Conservative’s best chance of holding on to power would be to win back public confidence in the economy, so the Labour front bench is cautious to avoid commitments that the Tories could use to paint them as the party of unfunded spending.

Keir Starmer has responded to the budget by calling for a general election on May 2nd. He used his relatively short response to attack the government for 14 years of low growth, falling living standards and, despite the Chancellor’s claims to the contrary, the highest tax burden in 70 years.

An Autumn Election?

Labour will feel relieved that there was no income tax rabbit, but they know they have a difficult task ahead to communicate any new policy announcements and how they will raise the money without raising taxes. In the next few weeks, they will pile on the pressure for a May election; but the mood music from the budget signals the Tories are playing for time. The challenge for the Government is whether this budget will reverse their precarious footing.

To find out more about how to prepare for the general election and what this pivotal year could mean for your business, please contact our political advisory team, led by Mark Burr, Partner at Hawthorn.

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Hawthorn Advisors Strengthens Senior Team with Four New Partner Appointments

Hawthorn Advisors is pleased to announce the senior appointments of Victoria Wallin and Richard Suchet to support the growth of the consultancy.

Both Wallin and Suchet join Hawthorn as Partners, after co-leading the Corporate Communications practice at Portland.

In addition to Wallin and Suchet, existing Hawthorn consultants, Jon Wynne-Jones, formerly Head of External Communications at dmg media, and Mark Burr, previously Deputy Director of European Policy at News Corp, have both been promoted to Partner.

They join the existing board of Partners; co-founders, John Evans and Sir Ben Elliot; former editor of the Today programme, Sarah Sands; former BBC political correspondent, Ross Hawkins; Steve Atkinson, ex Group Corporate Affairs Director at Standard Chartered Bank; and previous COO of King’s College, Anna Maria Clarke. 

Wallin joins with over 20 years’ experience advising clients – from international corporates to disruptive start-ups, membership bodies and campaign groups – such as Wimbledon, Pfizer, Heathrow and the NSPCC.

Suchet joins Hawthorn after almost seven years at Portland where he advised a range of international and regional brands and businesses including Netflix, Universal Music, KPMG and Snapchat. A former journalist and broadcaster, Suchet was previously correspondent for Sky News and LBC.

Both Wallin and Suchet will report to Hawthorn co-founder & CEO, John Evans who commented: “Victoria and Richard bring invaluable experience. They both have huge energy and ambition and will be a terrific cultural fit at Hawthorn. We have ended our 10th year with double digit growth and an expanding team of over 70 consultants. This ongoing success is contingent on hiring the best talent and Victoria and Richard, together with a number of other hires we’ve made recently, will allow us to continue to scale.”

Wallin said: “As one of London’s fastest growing, independent strategic communications consultancies and with a presence across the UK and US, I’m thrilled to be joining Hawthorn and look forward to working with the team in delivering impactful communication strategies for our clients.”

Suchet added: “With its international client base – from private and public companies, multi-nationals and governments to fast-growth businesses – and impressive team of consultants, this is an incredibly exciting time to be joining Hawthorn and I’m very much looking forward to supporting and delivering the next stage of growth.”

Evans continued: “It’s also great to be promoting Jon Wynne-Jones and Mark Burr to Partner. Both Jon and Mark have been instrumental in driving growth over recent years and their promotions reflect their ongoing contribution to the business.”


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Luxury communication in a changing world

Last summer, The Economist posed a straightforward question with a nuanced answer: is the luxury sector recession-proof?  Unsurprisingly, the answer was a resounding “no.” However, Europe’s luxury sector has continually defied expectations, demonstrating impressive resilience even during economic slowdowns. 

Yet as we look ahead to 2024, caution prevails among some of the European luxury market’s key players. Why is this?   

Flashpoint 1: Re-imagining luxury for a new generation  

After a dazzling few years of growth, Europe’s luxury sector appeared to be losing its sparkle at the end of 2023. This carried through into the new year, with 18 of the 20 largest luxury stocks reporting year-to-date declines in January. 

This dip in demand can be attributed, in part, to the volatile economic landscape, particularly in the US and China (more on that below). But, it also stems from the changing habits of wealthy millennials and Gen Z. These seemingly unlikely growth drivers now wield significant influence.  

Bain & Company estimates that younger generations—Generations Y, Z, and Alpha—will emerge as the dominant luxury buyers, accounting for a whopping 80% of global luxury purchases by 2030. These younger luxury customers have a very different view of the world – and are far less recession-proof than the more established luxury shopper (more on that below too). 

A recent Deloitte report reveals that 62% of European luxury consumers are willing to invest in pre-owned luxury goods in the future, compared to just 40% in 2019. This shift reflects a growing interest in the circular economy and sustainability within the luxury shopping sphere – a high-cost, lower-margin, part of the market.  

Younger luxury customers have a very different view of the world – and are far less recession proof than the more established luxury shopper.

Flashpoint 2: Uncertainty (and opportunity) on the global stage  

While Europeans played their part in the post-pandemic luxury boom, it’s the economic engines of China and the US that have fuelled much of the industry’s growth.  

Any sustained slowdown in these markets, therefore, spells trouble for the prospects of Europe’s luxury sector. Analysts predict that we may see this unfold in 2024, as both economic superpowers grapple with socio-economic and foreign policy challenges. 

However, beyond the dimming growth engines, glimmers of hope emerge from unexpected corners of the globe. McKinsey, in collaboration with the Business of Fashion, identifies a constellation of promising new luxury hubs

  • The Middle East, where opulence meets innovation. 
  • India, a vibrant tapestry of tradition and modernity. 
  • Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, where cultural richness intertwines with economic dynamism. 
  • South Korea, a powerhouse of technology and style. 

Meanwhile, Bain & Co. sheds light on the emergence of luxury markets in Africa, where a rising upper middle class fuels aspirations and reshapes the industry’s map. 

Flashpoint 3: A renewed focus on the elite customers 

As the wallets of aspirational luxury shoppers tightened in 2023, brands shifted their gaze to the apex of their clientele—the top earners. These inflation-resistant patrons wield robust budgets (and in some cases grew them!).  

Take, for instance, Gucci’s exclusive by-appointment store, aptly named the “Gucci Salon,” nestled in Los Angeles. Here, the brand caters exclusively to its most esteemed clients. 

But it’s not just about money; it’s about access. Brands orchestrate experiences that transcend mere transactions: 

  • Intimate dinners at designers’ private residences. 
  • Starry, insider-only shows and parties that blur the lines between exclusivity and artistry. 

According to Bain, the top 2 percent of luxury customers drive a staggering 40 percent of luxury sales. Engaging and retaining these ‘very important customers’ has always been critical to brands, but now, in an era of heightened competition, the challenge intensifies. 

Engaging and retaining these ‘very important customers’ has always been critical to brands, but now, in an era of heightened competition, the challenge intensifies. 

Flashpoint 4: the next frontier for technology  

The pandemic catalysed the sector’s digital transformation. Consumers, out of necessity, shifted to online channels, and companies offering digital luxury thrived and expanded. Now, four years later, we are witnessing signs of a digital deceleration, with customers yearning for tactile, in-person luxury experiences. 

Yet, technology remains a vital piece of the puzzle. While the vision of blinged up avatars never materialised, luxury brands continue to experiment with technology designed to change the way we shop.  

Apple’s mixed-reality headsets are a great example of this, offering a familiar interface for luxury shoppers to explore and visualize products from the cozy confines of their homes. 

As communications professionals, our role is to guide leaders through this intricate landscape and an ever-changing industry. Looks like we’re heading for a very interesting year ahead!

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Elections 2024: Will AI wars replace data wars?  

In 2024, two billion people across 50 countries will be heading to the polls. Among these 50 are three of the world’s biggest democracies, India, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This makes it the biggest election year in history. It is also the first big election year since AI tools have made their way from the safety of labs, and into the hands of the public. Digital political campaigning is about to get even more interesting.

Image of people and robots queuing up to vote in the UK General Elections 2024, created on DALL-E #AIGenerated

A decade of data wars.

It’s hard to remember a time when social media didn’t have on-platform advertising. In 2007 Facebook introduced its ad platform, but it wasn’t until after the 2016 US election that the platform took steps towards transparency. This cornerstone US election played out on social media and sparked some important ethical debates about digital campaigning, data privacy and transparency. For a whole 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, there were very few ways to tell if something was an ad, and who was running the ad.

Then, in 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light, and the world became very aware of three things. Firstly, that Facebook was holding more data on users than the public realised; data which these users unknowingly gave away. Secondly, that algorithms fed on using data to polarise communities, urging the left to lean more left, and the right to lean more right. And thirdly, that there were ways in which this Facebook data could be extracted off platform, to be used by third parties.

A new era of responsible advertising

Post Cambridge Analytica, the rules began to tighten further. With public pressure and suspicion mounting, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms began to restrict ad targeting and started becoming more transparent. You now need a government authorised ID to run any ads associated with political parties or government affiliated organisations. These are flagged on most platforms, with ads marked as ‘sponsored’. In addition, as per Facebook’s rules, political ads cannot target people based on their gender, ethnicity, race, household income or spending habits; with ad targeting restricted to basic geographic and language criteria.

There’s even a handy library of every single ad being run on Facebook; launched by the platform in 2018 in a bid to increase transparency. Anyone with a Facebook account can access this library and see just what ads are being run by whom. So if you are curious about the latest ads run by the Tory party, all you have to do is head over to Facebook’s extensive Ad Library to have a browse. If you look closely, you can even see how much was spent on each ad. Digital marketers everywhere, including at Hawthorn, absolutely love this tool. It levels the playing field for all competitors involved in a race.

It’s important to note that many of these restrictions and transparency protocols were not in place the last time the UK held general elections. We might now have more rules around who ads can target, but what about the content of the ads themselves?

A new agent of chaos

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney have ushered in an era of content creation that blurs the lines between human and machine-generated material. These tools can generate text, images, and even videos, and voice clones that are increasingly difficult to distinguish from authentic content. While bringing with them great creative potential, these tools come with an extraordinary power to manipulate and misinform. Just last week, the World Economic Forum put out its annual Global Risk Report which listed AI-generated misinformation and disinformation as the biggest threat of the year.

Firstly, we’re seeing a lot more deepfakes – remember that fake audio clip of Kier Starmer yelling at a staffer? And consequently, knowledge of their circulation makes the public ever more sceptical. So even authentic content is treated by the public with suspicion.  

These technologies aren’t just being used to subvert democracy. In a case that hit the headlines last year, Pakistani political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) used AI to clone the voice of former party leader Imran Khan. While Khan was locked up in prison unable to campaign for PTI, his AI-generated voice rallied the troops anyway, encouraging them to head out and vote for PTI, reaching 4.5 million people on social media. Many knew it wasn’t him speaking, the tech isn’t that good just yet, but his voice managed to deliver a message and found a clever loophole around a government issued gag order.

Governments and international bodies have begun to address the threat that AI-driven disinformation and misinformation can pose; but things are moving slowly. The European Union has reached a deal on AI regulation, albeit with implementation scheduled for 2025. The UK Government has been cautious about stifling AI innovation but has acknowledged the need for regulation of AI, and, as of now, there are no rules in place about flagging or restricting machine generated content. President Biden unveiled proposals in October 2023, including mandatory watermarking of AI-generated content.

Clearly regulation hasn’t quite caught with the new agent of chaos. But tech companies have been quicker to act this time around. Both Google and Facebook unveiled new platform rules that will require political ads to carry a label when they have been generated using an AI tool.

Who really wins?  

In 2019, it was estimated that just under £9 million was spent by political parties in the UK on Google and Facebook, with just over £6 million on Facebook alone. Despite ad targeting being more regulated this time around, we can expect spending to be even higher. Last time, national party spending was capped at £30,000 per constituency during the short campaign i.e., if a party was contesting a seat in all 230 constituencies, they had £6.9 million to spend. This has now been increased to £54,010. For context, total campaign spending could go from £19 million to £34 million – a 78% increase.

If the same percentage was spent on digital advertising, Facebook and Google could come away with a cool £15 million from the UK alone – making them the real election winners, along with the many AI tools that might be used to produce this year’s ads.

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Five things you need to know about Labour’s NPF document

Conference season is almost upon us and there is huge anticipation this year as these are likely to be the final annual conferences before the next general election.

For Labour, that means it is the last formal opportunity for party members to contribute to the manifesto, which is why there is some excitement about the publication of the National Policy Forum (NPF) final documents. 

Here are the five things you need to know.

1. The NPF is elected to shape Labour policy

For those of you who aren’t Labour nerds, you might be wondering what this is and why it matters. Briefly, the NPF is an elected group of Labour members, trade union members and the Shadow Cabinet who debate and shape policy submissions. They last met for a long weekend in July and agreed a wide-ranging policy programme which is being circulated today. It matters because, as a democratic socialist party, Labour members expect to be able to shape policy.

2. Don’t believe the hype – this is not the manifesto

Despite all the noise, we are a long way from the Labour manifesto. First, this document needs to be endorsed by delegates at Labour party conference in October – where it can still be amended. Then Starmer and his team will spend the next year listening to businesses, unions, trade bodies, and of course the public, before the manifesto is finalised at the Clause V meeting just before the General Election.

3. It’s the economy, stupid

This may not be the manifesto, but it’s still important. And the 50 most important words in this document are found on Page 7 and are worth repeating:

Labour’s fiscal rules, as set out by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, are non-negotiable. They will apply to every decision taken by a Labour government, with no exceptions. That means that Labour will not borrow to fund day-to-day spending, and we will reduce national debt as a share of the economy.”

Confirmation, if it were needed, that Labour believes the path to No.10 lies in demonstrating that it is they, not the Conservatives, who can be trusted with the economy. This will mean battles with their own supporters about how much change Labour can promise, but Starmer and Reeves have made the calculation that it is the public who determine election results, not Labour members.  

4. Labour is walking a tightrope with the Unions

Thirteen years of Conservative government have left most Unions focused on getting Labour over the line at the next election. But relations could be seriously tested if Labour wins. The NPF document contains many policies that Unions will like in the ‘A New Deal for Working People’ section (page 35), such as commitments to repeal anti-union legislation. Unions will expect action on those in the first 100 days of a Labour government – and Starmer will be criticised, as Blair was, if he doesn’t repeal Conservative Trade Union legislation. Greater pressure still may come from elsewhere – re-read the Reeves 50 words on the economy, then consider that some public sector unions have been asking for 18% pay rises. Tough negotiations lie ahead for Labour and the Unions.

5. Labour still has plenty of decisions to make

The NPF document and the Five Missions tell us Labour’s priorities, the direction they want to take the country in, and some of the policies they want to enact in government. But they can’t do much of it without the private sector. Starmer has been in listening mode with businesses since day one of becoming leader. He wants to present Labour as the party of business at the next election so that voters will believe his targets on growth and the economy. If you have something to contribute to that conversation, Labour will want to hear from you.

If there was ever a time to engage with the Labour Party, the time is now.

By Grace Skelton, Associate Director

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Starmer Prepares for Power with Major Reshuffle By Grace Skelton, Associate Director

Sir Keir Starmer’s long awaited reshuffle took place yesterday. It had been widely briefed as an opportunity for Starmer to get his top team in place for the general election – promoting Shadow Ministers who have impressed and ensuring Labour’s most experienced and recognised faces are in place. Scroll down for the full Shadow Cabinet list.

Rise of the centrists

Labour’s centrists are unquestionably the winners. Rising stars Wes Streeting and Bridget Phillipson never looked in danger of losing their posts, and Peter Kyle, Liz Kendall and Darren Jones have all been elevated to the Shadow Cabinet. Starmer loyalists Shabana Mahmood and Steve Reed remain in the Shadow Cabinet. Meanwhile soft left MPs including Lucy Powell and Lisa Nandy were demoted to more junior roles and Angela Rayner, the powerful Deputy Leader, has been given the Levelling Up role in a move described by many as ‘the John Prescott role’.

Also significant is the promotion of senior Blairite Pat McFadden to the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the National Campaign Coordinator – in plain English, he is tasked with running the general election campaign and if Labour wins the election, the machinery of government. McFadden is as Blairite as they get – he was in Tony Blair’s inner circle from when Blair became Labour leader in 1994 and was his Political Secretary in No.10.

The party HQ team McFadden will be working with are similarly minded – Morgan McSweeney, Marianna McFadden and Matt Pound all come from the new Labour school of politics. And his deputies – Jonathan Ashworth and Ellie Reeves – are thoroughly steeped in the moderate wing of the party. These appointments tell us that Labour’s approach will continue to be ruthlessly focused on winning the election and resisting voices that wish to pull the party leftwards.

Government experience clearly counts for Starmer, who knows that the Parliamentary Labour Party is light on MPs elected before 2010. Rachel Reeves, Ed Miliband, John Healey, Yvette Cooper, and David Lammy all kept their roles, and there is a return to the frontbench for the roundly respected Hilary Benn, who has been appointed Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.

Keir Starmer’s reshuffle has taken many by surprise by the extent of its appointments. With his newly appointed Chief of Staff, Sue Gray, by his side, Starmer’s grip over the Labour Party is the strongest it has ever been. It demonstrates an unflinching commitment to building the best possible serious team to win the next election and his own determination to become Prime Minister. It is in sharp contrast to the government’s latest problems, which sees them under attack for the schools crisis.

Starmer’s Labour Party has a refreshed team of top talent including the much-lauded Darren Jones MP who has impressed many as Chair of the Business and Trade Select Committee. Keir Starmer is a serious leader with a ruthless streak to do what it takes to win. This latest shuffle puts Labour poised with ideas and a skilled team eagerly awaiting the opportunity to serve in a future Labour government.

James Frith Labour Candidate in Bury North

Full Shadow Cabinet

  • Sir Keir Starmer: Leader of the Opposition
  • Angela Rayner: Shadow deputy prime minister and shadow levelling up secretary
  • Rachel Reeves: Shadow chancellor
  • Bridget Phillipson: Shadow education secretary
  • Yvette Cooper: Shadow home secretary
  • Wes Streeting: Shadow health secretary
  • Ed Miliband: Shadow energy security and net zero secretary
  • David Lammy: Shadow foreign secretary
  • Pat McFadden: Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and National Campaign Coordinator
  • Nick Thomas-Symonds: Shadow minister without portfolio
  • Jonathan Ashworth: Shadow paymaster general
  • Shabana Mahmood: Shadow justice secretary
  • Jonathan Reynolds: Shadow business and trade secretary
  • Liz Kendall: Shadow work and pensions secretary
  • John Healey: Shadow defence secretary
  • Louise Haigh: Shadow transport secretary
  • Thangam Debbonaire: Shadow culture secretary
  • Anneliese Dodds: Shadow women and equalities minister and Labour chair
  • Steve Reed: Shadow environment secretary
  • Peter Kyle: Shadow science secretary
  • Hilary Benn: Shadow Northern Ireland secretary
  • Ian Murray: Shadow Scottish secretary
  • Jo Stevens: Shadow Welsh secretary
  • Emily Thornberry: Shadow attorney general
  • Lisa Nandy: Shadow cabinet minister for international development
  • Darren Jones: Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
  • Ellie Reeves: Deputy national campaign coordinator
  • Lucy Powell: Shadow Commons leader
  • Alan Campbell: Labour chief whip (Commons)
  • Angela Smith: Shadow leader of the House of Lords
  • Roy Kennedy: Labour chief whip (Lords)
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Whose side are you on?

“We are on the side of economic growth”, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer responded to climate activists as they attempted to disrupt the announcement of policies linked to Labour’s fifth mission: breaking down barriers to opportunities. With a difficult economic backdrop and more tightening to come, it was telling that Sir Keir used the campaigners’ interruption not to address their agenda, but to highlight Labour’s support for business and investment.

In a room packed with students, teachers, union heads, and climate activists, Starmer revealed the fifth and final of the party’s “missions” which, he says, are the building blocks upon which an incoming Labour government would legislate. I was invited to the official launch held at Mid Kent College in Gillingham yesterday morning and stood behind the podium as he delivered his speech.

Over the last few weeks, Starmer and the Shadow Cabinet team have travelled across the country laying out the case for each of these missions. They are (in order of announcement):

  1. Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7.
  2. Make Britain a green energy superpower.
  3. Build an NHS fit for the future.
  4. Make Britain’s street safe.
  5. Break down barriers to opportunity at every stage.

The Guardian’s Peter Walker suggested that yesterday’s announcement, along with the other missions, represent what are in fact some “radical” policies, but carried out in a sensible and reliable manner. Indeed, they are the culmination of Labour’s continued efforts to present themselves as a government in waiting. Starmer’s comment to the climate activists was arguably no surprise. His mission speeches have been littered with references to the importance of business and investment. For business, they provide a variety of avenues through which to engage.

The fifth mission, branded as “opportunity”, contains Labour’s key principles for education policy. Starmer’s speech focused heavily on what he termed the “class ceiling”: the barriers to opportunity which Labour suggest the Conservatives have done little to address. After saying that the Conservatives have “given up” on education policy, Starmer announced that an incoming Labour government would review the national curriculum and include creative arts or sports education until students are sixteen with a review of the way that digital skills are taught.

We are on the side of economic growth

Keir Starmer Labour leader

His pledge that Labour would form a new national body – “Skills England” – to provide more access to post-19 training and introduce a National Skills Plan will be welcomed by businesses who have voiced frustrations at the current government’s apprenticeship levy, the terms of which they have argued in fact prevents them from investing in vocational careers. Starmer’s speech also contained a promise to reform Ofsted and re-iterated the flagship policy of removing tax breaks for private schools to unlock new funding to invest in speech and language classes and hire 6,500 more teachers in shortage subjects.

These are, to many, uncontroversial policies. Starmer avoided making any announcements on tuition fees, high education funding, and teacher’s pay and refused to be drawn into a discussion about the ongoing strikes. Though they do represent the tightrope that Labour is walking – at once attempting to be the party of business and innovation, and also the party of its roots. The policy announcements show Starmer’s attempt to marry the two.

But this has become a hallmark of the Starmerite style. Only intervening where necessary, being exceedingly realistic about the challenges that lie ahead, and managing expectations. He matches the Prime Minister’s steady, quiet progress, not seeking dramatic flair. If the intention from both leaders is to stick to the slow lane, they must out-do one another on policy. While standing on the podium as he gave his speech, it struck me that Labour might have that edge.

By Edward Holtom, Consultant

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Hawthorn Hosts an AI Panel on the Opportunities and Risks for the Creative & News Industries

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a prominent topic of discussion in various spheres, including board rooms, government departments, and regulatory offices.

Yesterday, Hawthorn organised a private breakfast panel, moderated by Emily Sheffield, that brought together leaders from the media and creative industries, government officials, and regulators. The objective of the event was to explore effective strategies for harnessing the advantages of AI while addressing potential risks.

We’re particularly grateful to our esteemed panellists who contributed their valuable insights: Stephan Pretorius, Global Chief Technology Officer for WPP plc; Sophie Jones, Chief Executive Officer at British Phonographic Industry (BPI); and Baroness Tina Stowell, Chair of the Lords Communications & Digital Committee.

Thanks to: Department for Culture, Media and Sport | Ofcom | Competition and Markets Authority | 10 Downing Street

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Like me, but keep it professional: Twenty years of LinkedIn

Three very important things happened to the internet in the year 2003, exactly 20 years ago.

Skype was launched, introducing us to the wonderful world of internet-based video conferences. WordPress was launched, giving rise to the phenomenon of bloggers, the pre-cursor to the influencer. And LinkedIn was launched, bringing the world of performative online social media networking into a professional setting.

This Holy tech-trinity would go on to change the way we work. To take stock of where we are today; the average office worker spends about 21.5 hours per week in online meetings, 810 million websites are built using WordPress and LinkedIn has 930 million members.

Skype, WordPress, and LinkedIn were a part of the rising Web 2.0 tide, which on the surface put power into the hands of the people, giving Joe Bloggs the ability to ‘influence’ the world with his own content.

For a while Joe really enjoyed having that “power”; he could start a blog about his niche interest in carnivorous plants, connect with other appreciators of the Venus Flytrap, and attend talks by Flytrap experts based in South Carolina from the comfort of his own home in Hackney. Increasingly though, Joe Bloggs would become aware that his well-crafted LinkedIn post announcing his new role at the Royal Horticulture Society was at the mercy of the algorithm, which was at the mercy of a big tech company which controlled who, when, how and how many times his network saw his post. Joe and the rest of us were rudely shaken out of our Web 2.0 dream of digital democracy.

Late last year, LinkedIn raised a few eyebrows when it became public that the company had been running a five-year long experiment on 20 million of its users. The study was an A/B test on LinkedIn’s ‘People you may know’ feature, where half the subjects were recommended strong connections i.e., people who they had a lot of mutual connections with. While the others were recommended to connect with those further outside of their existing network. LinkedIn wanted to understand the impact of the ‘People you may know’ feature on users’ ability to find jobs on LinkedIn. As an aside, the study found that the likelihood of you finding work via LinkedIn is greater if you connect with people who you don’t have as many mutual connections with.

When the findings of the study were released, there was outrage at the ethical implication of “experimenting” on people’s ability to find work. Arguably half the people in the A/B test were by inclusion in the experiment, less likely to find work than the others. But here’s the thing, LinkedIn and a vast majority of the internet is built on proprietary algorithms which are constantly being tested and tweaked based on our use of them. We just don’t think of this constant data gathering and feedback loop as an “experiment”; but it’s something we sign up for in the small print.

Just because LinkedIn is a professional network, which is designed to help users navigate job hunts and build a career does not make it any more or less virtuous to every other digital product that keeps us hooked to a screen, commodifies our content and monetises our data.

The outrage at LinkedIn’s experiment came from the realisation that an algorithm change could impact one’s livelihood. Meanwhile Meta and Twitter have been playing with outrage, addiction, and all manner of base human instinct. This hasn’t gone unnoticed and we’ve started having increasingly nuanced discussions about the potentially harmful impact of social media algorithms and the messiness that comes with unregulated tech development.

For a long time, LinkedIn felt like a clean, professional space. Where you could leave behind the messiness of your real life, stepping over the screaming kids and piles of laundry, into an ironed suit and the polished world of work. But then we started noticing the rise of the LinkedIn influencer – savvy users who have figured out clever ways to write posts which inspire reactions and arguments in the comments.

The growth of LinkedIn and associated work-enabling technologies over the last twenty years have taken us slowly towards a world where it’s harder and harder to separate the screaming kids from the boardroom. Remember the kid who walked into her dad’s BBC interview during the pandemic? Skype made that universally joy-inducing moment possible.

A host of challenges and opportunities have come with this merging of worlds; we’re discovering more of each as we go along, all semi-aware yet unable to escape from the experiment. Question is, do you really want to? Or is the thrill of the ‘like’ all worth it?

But before you answer that question, go share my article on LinkedIn.

By Salonee Gadgil, Digital Associate Director

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The opportunities and challenges for fast-growth businesses building multi-generational workplaces

We often hear the phrase – ‘your greatest asset is your people.’ This is true in any company; without them, you will fail! But fast growth in businesses can all too often come at a high cost to the people on your team, and it’s hard to grow organically and consistently without some things going under pressure.

In a study conducted for Hawthorn, we spoke to leading executives across high-growth businesses to understand their challenges, the opportunities that exist, and the continued need to put people first.

The findings identified four key areas of focus for fast-growth businesses:

  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Building and maintaining culture
  • The changing face of leadership
  • Ensuring effective communication

These are challenges being faced by many organisations, but they are exacerbated by the pace at which businesses are growing.

Attracting and retaining talent

How you treat your people is paramount. People now expect much more from their employers, and so employers must work harder to attract and retain top talent – it’s no longer just about pay and bonuses, they are looking for career growth, a positive work culture, and work-life balance.

A third of respondents said they have experienced challenges attracting talent to their fast-growing company. Over three quarters said they have found employee retention to be more of an issue since the pandemic, with almost a third saying that retaining the right people has been a significant problem for their business.

At the same time, business leaders are facing a subset of challenges created by a multi-generational workplace. Despite the reported challenges with Generation Z fueling the Great Resignation, respondents said that Millennials and Generation X were the two generations they find most difficult to retain, leaving them with skills and experience gaps in their businesses.

Despite all of this, 71% of respondents have not changed their methods of employee retention over the last 12-18 months, which is surprising considering the clear need for fast-growing businesses to retain top talent.

Businesses would do well to now focus on factors that will contribute to workers’ overall experience, and ensure they have an up-to-date and relevant Employee Value Proposition that meets the needs of their current and future talent.

Building and maintaining culture

Building and maintaining culture is reported as a key challenge for fast-growth businesses. This is likely a result of leadership being more firmly focused on growing their business, coupled with the fact that once you’ve surpassed a certain number of employees, your culture begins to change and becomes more difficult to control. This is further exacerbated by workers of different generations bringing their expectations, core values, and ideas of what constitutes a positive workplace culture.

More surprisingly, three-quarters of respondents felt this is an area that is already taking up too much of their time, and they would like to be able to spend less time focused on it.

The changing face of leadership

The findings clearly show that people and culture are two of the main challenges faced by fast growth businesses. They also indicate that dealing with these issues are among the most important roles for leaders in the business. Therefore, it is surprising that only 15% of respondents felt that defining a purpose, vision, and goals were an important role of the leadership team in a growing business. In fact, it was last on the list!

However, when asked what the impact had been of the challenges they faced when growing fast or at scale, 23% of respondents cited poor leadership.

Leaders must work together to meet the needs of the business, building an inclusive and high-performance culture, discussing growth regularly, engaging employees on their journey, and communicating any changes.

Ensuring effective communication

As befits the current and future need for emotionally intelligent leaders, respondents identified communicating at pace as the most important aspect of all the duties of leaders in fast-growing organisations. Additionally, 24% of respondents identified being a good communicator as the foremost quality a good leader should have.

Yet, the findings indicate that this aspect of running a fast-growing business may have been overlooked. Just 15% of respondents said that they have improved communications to address the challenges they’ve been facing as they’ve grown, making this the least common response. This is despite the generational problems they are facing regarding talent attraction and retention, and the fact that 28% have struggled to manage different communication styles in a multi-generational workforce.

Conclusion

High employee turnover and poor communication has an impact on culture that cannot be understated. Indeed, according to respondents, the biggest negative impact of the challenges they are facing centres around culture. Specifically, 25% said they either found it difficult to maintain culture or prevent a toxic culture from developing. Interestingly, only 15% have improved their communications in response to this. Not only do these directly affect a business’s ability to perform, but they could also severely affect its reputation.

Despite the acknowledgment that leadership plays an important role with regard to people and culture, and despite the challenges they are facing in these areas, respondents feel that they cannot afford to spend any more time addressing these issues.

An organisation’s culture is embodied and maintained by its people. Take every opportunity to engage with your workforce, understand them, and capture their views on how the company is performing. Ensure you have leaders with the new skills and capabilities needed to lead and inspire your workforce because effective leadership will help you make the most of the opportunities creating sustainable growth for the future.

Amid all the excitement and potential of business growth, it can be easy to lose sight of what initially made your venture special and set you on the path to success. Recognising and understanding the potential challenges and how to overcome them is essential if your business is to continue to grow and thrive. Not doing so, will continue to have a negative impact on your business as it grows, as it will become much harder to resolve the more time goes by and the larger the business becomes.

If you would like to know more about the findings of our study or how we at Hawthorn can help you identify and address these challenges, then please contact our Head of Employee Communications & Engagement, Sarah-Jane Wakefield at s-j.wakefield@hawthornadvisors.com.

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Continuity leader for the SNP

Humza Yousaf was elected the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and First Minister of Scotland on 27th March 2023. Following Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation and an often rancorous race, Yousaf, the Health Secretary, defeated Finance Secretary Kate Forbes 52% to 48% in the final round of voting, becoming the first person of colour and the first Muslim to lead the SNP and the Scottish government.

For the SNP, Yousaf’s win is the easiest result in the short-term. Yousaf’s offer of continuity won the support of the SNP establishment. At Holyrood, the pro-independence Scottish Greens have laid aside their threat to discontinue their de facto coalition with the SNP.

Though long a reliable ally of Nicola Sturgeon, Forbes distinguished herself in her unapologetic social conservatism and her belief that “continuity won’t cut it”. Regan – always an outside bet – represented a diminished old guard of hardliners.

After 16 years of SNP government, it’s hard to know how far the offer of continuity can take Yousaf. In the public mind, he is lumped with the struggles of Scotland’s health service. In polling from last week, Yousaf enjoyed net favourability of -20 relative to -8 for Forbes and -24 for Regan.

Forbes has been outwardly supportive of Yousaf. Her decision to leave government rather than accept a demotion, however, strengthens the potentially awkward cluster of conservative SNP backbenchers. The loss of Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Business Minister Ivan McKee could also undermine SNP efforts to build trust among Scotland’s business community. Otherwise, every member of Yousaf’s cabinet served in government under his predecessor.

During the campaign, Yousaf appeared to cool on Sturgeon’s plan to make the next general election a “de facto referendum” on independence. Instead, he insisted on the need to widen support for independence. At the announcement, however, neither Yousaf himself nor any party officials portrayed the incoming leader as the one who would deliver independence.

Yousaf has promised to be the “First Activist”. Unless, though, he makes striking electoral progress for both ‘Yes’ and the SNP, his co-partisans will grow even more restless than under his predecessor.

Following a policy-light campaign, business should keep an eye on proposals from the new government. The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government (the Holyrood equivalent of a King’s Speech) usually comes in September. Reports have, however, suggested civil servants were preparing for an earlier Programme for Government even before the leadership result.

The Programme for Government will provide an important update on cross-border policies such as the deposit return scheme, from which Yousaf promised to exempt small businesses. Yousaf also promised to work with the UK government and other devolved administrations “constructively where I can”. He seems likelier to continue Sturgeon’s approach, treating the UK government with the detachment due a “foreign” government and combativeness due a political opponent.

Scotland’s pro-Union parties appear relieved at Yousaf’s win. Scottish Labour will hope Yousaf’s reputation will help them regain ground in Scotland and, in time, look like a fresh, competent government in waiting. For Conservatives at Westminster and Holyrood, Yousaf’s bullishness provides a ready foil to a robust unionism.

In spite of challenges, the SNP looks set to remain Scotland’s dominant party in the immediate term. The long-term threat to the Union has by no means vanished. In this sense, Yousaf truly is a continuity candidate.

By Charlie Clegg, Consultant

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The end of ‘free’ money

After 15 years of ‘free’ money, we’re now seeing what breaks when interest rates shoot up. Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, Credit Suisse, as well as wider confidence, have all vapourised at speed. It is difficult to say where the next fractures will appear but there are undoubted stresses in the private markets, asset management and real estate and with those who borrowed excessively in the good times. What next and what are the implications for our clients?

Banks will become more boring
The irony is that the framework put in place after the last financial crisis has worked well (especially in UK and Switzerland, less so in the USA where some of the new regulations weren’t implemented). Bank resolutions have been for the private sector, the taxpayer hasn’t (yet) been troubled. But in a sense, the regulations put in place since 2008 are fighting the last war. We can expect the regulatory burden to tighten further, a consequent fall in lending appetite, credit will become scarcer and that means slower economic growth.

Less money for more frivolous and ambitious ventures
With credit contracting, more marginal start-ups become unviable, fund raising becomes more difficult and we’ll likely see the failure of some fintech, medtech and other businesses. We’ll see greater realism in the commercials of many businesses – cash conservation will be king and a quicker path to profit will become imperative.

Approaching the peak of the interest rate cycle
Central Banks have two main roles – to control inflation and to keep order and stability in the financial markets. The ECB ‘chose’ price stability last week and raised rates again. However, the events of the last two weeks will have been very deflationary – and that means the likes of the Fed and Bank of England will not need to raise rates as fast, if at all, to contain inflation. That said, core price rises are still persistent and wage expectations are still rising. While we may have peaked in terms of interest rates, those rates will still remain higher for longer and will not fall as quickly as the market is expecting.

It’s a reminder that risk, in all its guises, needs to be managed and diversified
A company should not leave all its cash in one bank – or indeed rely on one bank to provide all its sources of finance. Credit risk, operational risk, market risk all require attention. As does reputational risk – values, behaviours, standards are all under scrutiny. The world is more transparent, more judgemental, and less forgiving on those who get it wrong. The biggest takeaway of all – culture matters.

A toxic culture will eventually be exposed and will be an existential risk for those who don’t manage it.

Getting your comms right matters more
Sloppy language, loose lips and ill-judged commentary transmits faster and has more impact in today’s world. One poorly phrased sentence saw 20% of SVB’s deposit base evaporate in 24 hours. The messaging of difficult and bad news should be scripted and practised. Communications needs to be front and centre, not an afterthought. There is less room for error and companies need to invest in getting their messaging right.

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Finding the path between greenwashing and ‘greenhushing’ in sustainability communications

I say “no” a lot. As an advisor on sustainability communications, often the recommendation I give to clients is to avoid actively pushing out stories about reducing their environmental impact, setting goals, or investing into sustainability initiatives.

There is a delicate balance between avoiding accusations of greenwashing, and suffering the chilling effects of ‘greenhushing’ – where a fear of potential reputational damage from a backlash can prevent an organisation from taking credit for genuine progress.

Greenwashing is becoming an increasingly serious risk. A few years ago companies could by and large get away with shining a big spotlight on a small win, without facing scrutiny about their wider environmental impact. But the public, journalists, and regulators have become increasingly literate on sustainability issues, and they are rightly able to call out companies making spurious or overbaked claims.

In recent months we have seen the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK come out with formal greenwashing rulings against HSBC and Lufthansa on their climate claims. The EU has just put in place a draft plan that would give companies just ten days to justify green claims about their products before facing potential penalties.

In the US, H&M is in the middle of a class-action lawsuit over providing its customers with allegedly inaccurate environmental scores. And asset managers are frantically working to ensure that marketing for their ESG-labelled funds will comply with the requirements of Europe’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation.

Companies are now starting to list impacts related to perceptions of greenwashing as a material risk in their annual reports, and banks such as NatWest and Standard Chartered are rolling out training to staff to tackle this. In an anonymous global survey of nearly 1,500 executives at large businesses, 58% privately admitted that their company was guilty of greenwashing.

At the same time, it is important to celebrate companies that are doing the right thing. Change doesn’t happen overnight. The process of transitioning towards a sustainable economy will require a mixture of continuous improvement and transformative action over the course of years and decades. And today the pace of change is still far too slow.

We need to build momentum and shift expectations on what is possible, raising the bar on what good performance looks like for a business. Storytelling and sharing examples of success are critical tools for driving broader action. If you don’t receive positive reinforcement for doing something that can often be expensive and challenging, the motivation to continue your efforts can often drain away.

When deciding on whether or not to communicate sustainability achievements, I typically run through three core questions that will help shape my advice to clients.

  1. Does this make a meaningful difference?

Companies should understand their material issues and biggest areas of impact. If you have massive manufacturing operations powered by fossil fuels, the fact that you have switched your offices onto renewable energy tariffs is not the strongest story.

  1. Do you have the evidence?

Assertions should always be backed up by high quality data, ideally with support or assurance from credible third parties. When Tesco made the claim that its plant-based meat alternatives had a lower environmental impact, it relied on general principles and not specific lifecycle analysis, which led to censure from the advertising regulator.

  1. How does this fit within a broader strategy?

An isolated example of good practice will invite the difficult questions about what is happening elsewhere. Unless you are beyond reproach in terms of your performance (and virtually no company is), it is critical to contextualise action as just another step along the journey towards a more sustainable destination.

There is a need to be cautious about the increasingly acute reputational risks from communicating on sustainability. But as these issues become ever more obvious and urgent, if you aren’t seen as part of the solution then by default you will be perceived as part of the problem.

First you have to actually be doing green things, but if you are then you don’t let greenhushing hold you back – just be careful to get the storytelling right.

By Jamie Plotnek, Head of Sustainability and Purpose

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Managing the Ripple Effects of Strike Action: Three Strategies for Businesses

Over the last few months, we’ve witnessed a rising wave of strike action and unrest not seen since the 1980s miners’ strikes. Action has been taken by people across several different industries including rail workers, teachers, academics, NHS staff, Royal Mail, Border Force, and the Civil Service staff, with more announced for the coming weeks.

Whilst companies with striking employees will be the most negatively affected, this action is causing concern and disruption across most businesses.

According to economists at the Centre for Business and Economic Research, the strike action is expected to cost the economy close to £100m, with absences among those who cannot work from home and rely on the train network to commute, costing an additional £26m.

With expected long-term disruptions the impact is not just being seen in financial turnovers, the loss of clients, and employee absences, but also in employee productivity, morale, and engagement. Just as businesses are suffering due to these strikes, employees are also struggling with potentially devastating disruptions to their commute, caring arrangements, healthcare appointments, emergency healthcare, and long-awaited holidays.

So, how can organisations support their employees and maintain productivity?

  1. Take a flexible approach

As a result of the Covid pandemic, businesses and individuals alike are generally better placed to cope with ongoing disruption. Moreover, for companies that have adopted flexible working, or are able to introduce some form of flexibility, the impact will be felt less. Enabling and helping your employees to work from home means they can avoid travel disruption, and as a company you can maintain productivity and performance.

Flexible working is not just about location. Providing flexibility in how, when, and where employees work will also lessen the impact of these strikes. With teachers and NHS staff striking some of your employees may be struggling with childcare, caring for loved ones, or navigating moving appointments. Enabling them to adjust their hours of work will show you care and want to support your colleagues, but again means the work still gets done.

Unfortunately, not all businesses can take a flexible approach, particularly those in the hospitality, leisure, and retail industries. In these instances, it’s important to understand the personal circumstances of your employees and find a solution that works for both of you. You may also consider:

Agreeing with employees to take a period of annual leave.

Agreeing with employees that they should use any banked time off in lieu.

Covering the cost of alternative accommodation or transport.

Re-arranging shifts, where possible.

Changing core hours employees need to be onsite.

Taking the time to understand the difficulties your people face and working to find a solution will build goodwill, loyalty, and commitment. Following this, your employees will want to support the business in return, and ultimately performance should not suffer.

  1. Keep listening and communicating

As with any period of uncertainty, disruption, challenge, or crisis, regular transparent communication is critical. Communicating effectively with your people will ensure they understand what is expected of them, what the needs of the business are, and what support is available to them. It’s also important to communicate frequently, as the strike action is a dynamic situation and things can change overnight.

At the same time, it’s just as important to listen and understand how the strikes will impact your people, and provide opportunities for two-way engagement and feedback.

It’s important to remember that for some – particularly in those sectors that can’t easily adopt a flexible approach and whose performance is heavily impacted – this environment can drive concerns around job security. Consequently, line managers have a key role to play in reassuring colleagues, understanding their personal circumstances, and discussing the most effective way the strikes can be navigated for both the individual and the business.

  1. Remember to check-in on your people

Employees may already be feeling stressed, burnt-out, and over-worked. This is only likely to be further exacerbated dealing with the fallout from strikes. Not only is the impact on all of our working lives, but for many it will also be impacting their lives outside of work – causing mental, physical, or financial distress. Parents will be managing childcare arrangements or concerned about how the university strikes are affecting their children far from home; people may be worried about their loved ones’ health with paramedics, doctors, and nurses standing at the picket line; or people may have long anticipated and expensive holidays delayed or even cancelled by the striking border force.

In addition, teams may be under greater pressure if they are having to cover the work of others, whilst leaders will be trying to juggle resources, ensuring client/customers’ needs are being met, and that the business can continue to perform.

Businesses should:

Encourage line managers and colleagues to check-in on each other.

Be empathetic and listen.

Remind colleagues of the well-being support available to them e.g., Employee Assistance Programmes, well-being apps, mental health or financial support.

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Name Role

By helping your employees’ overall wellbeing, you are in turn protecting, as much as possible, their productivity and commitment to the organisation.

The ongoing strikes have created a difficult economic and social environment for businesses to work in and people to live in. By working together, understanding each other’s needs, and providing an element of flexibility where possible, businesses and individuals can navigate the disruption with limited damage to morale, engagement, and performance.

By Arabella Kofi, Employee Communications & Engagement Executive

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Navigating Intergenerational Dynamics: A Conversation with Dr. Eliza Filby, Expert in Generational Intelligence

Dr Eliza Filby, is an academic, lecturer, renowned author, podcaster, and speaker who specialises in ‘generational intelligence’ helping companies, governments, and services understand generational shifts within politics, society, and the workplace. Eliza has spoken at the EU’s Human Rights Forum on Teenagers and Technology; the Financial Time CEO Forum on the Future of Work, and to the UK’s House of Lord’s Select Committee on Intergenerational Unfairness.

I had the great pleasure of spending some time with Eliza discussing the increasing gap between generations, the multi-generational workplace, and the practical things companies can do to support a multi-generational workforce. Here’s some of the highlights from our discussion.

You can read more about Eliza’s work and her insights at www.elizafilby.com

Q: Eliza, you describe yourself as someone who specialises in ‘generational intelligence’, can you tell us a bit more about what it is you do?

I study society through the prism of age and generations – from Baby Boomers to Generation Alpha – examining how the traditional lifecycle is being reordered and remade in the 21st Century. I think this itself is quite a restrictive analysis and way of viewing society, but it’s a starting point that I use to analyse the different ways in which society is changing in terms of its consumers, its citizens, and its workers.

I’m interested in looking at the way in which the different generations are evolving because we’re not static as human beings. So, what their narratives are, what events, trends, and values have shaped them, and then really how that’s playing out in the workplace, education, politics, the economy, and society as a whole.

Q: It feels like the division between generations has got greater in a way I haven’t felt before. Is this true? If it is, how we begin to the bridge that gap?

It certainly does feel like the gap between generations is greater than it’s ever been and at times that can feel very divisive. However, we are predisposed as human beings to be ageist and if you could create a thread throughout history, the one constant would be that the old have always criticised the young as being lazy, privileged, and entitled.

You bridge the gap by building understanding and empathy across the generations. One of the things that I spend a lot of my time doing is helping companies understand that we are all a product of our time. Different values, technologies, and experiences have really shaped generations and explain why they are the way they are, for example what it’s like for a Gen Z to have grown up with a smartphone in their pocket since they were 13, or for a Gen X woman to have entered the workplace as the only woman in the office, or what it’s like for a Millennial to be the first generation to go to university and then graduate extensive debt and a declining level of opportunity.

Being able to acknowledge that we are all a product of our time and understanding the impact of that is a great place to start.

Q: We are now in a world where we have four, and in some cases, five generations in the workplace, so how should companies be thinking about their workforce?

Research has found that within the workplace you are more likely to make friends with people of a different gender, sexuality, or race than you are of a different generation or age. This statistic is key to recognising not only the importance of age diversity within an organisation, but also the challenge it brings.

Ageism can be a really corrosive force, so it’s important to think about the practical things you can do to bring the generations together, particularly in a hybrid working environment where we are seeing less of each other. The absence of this can fuel greater levels of misunderstanding and prejudice because we’re just not colliding as much.

We really need to think about ways in which the different generations are heard in the workplace and by this, I mean all generations. I’m not a massive advocate for Gen Z boards because you’re giving a voice to yes, the generation that expects it the most, but you’re actually alienating others – particularly older workers who already feel a sense of dislocation and displacement.

You need to consider and encourage not just cross-generational dialogue, but dialogue that gives everyone a voice and enables everyone to listen including multi-generational boards, reverse mentoring, skills swaps, and effective communication.

Q. You mention that hybrid working means we are seeing each other less, what impact is that having on a multi-generational workforce?

One of the challenges with hybrid working is that all the learning through osmosis that used to happen naturally when people are in the same place is just not happening through Zoom/Teams calls anymore.

So much of the older generations’ experience is not being transported down the generations. Therefore, it’s really important not only for companies to bridge the generational gap, but also help up-skill the young by forcing different generations to be in the same room together, so that informal learning to take place.

Whether it’s talking to a client, dealing with a problem, or having an uncomfortable conversation – those things need to be observed if you’re young because that’s how you learn.

But equally, it’s really important that we recognise that you have a generation coming in who for the first time in history, have higher technological skills than the people that are managing them. That knowledge also needs to be passed upwards through the generational chain in the workplace.

So, companies need to be consider how they can develop an educational policy and culture that really encourages cross-generational learning.

Q: We are increasingly living and working longer. What role do organisations have to play in ageing societies?

One of the key areas that organisations need to focus is on how they care for their employees. I have a very holistic and open understanding of what I mean by care. A lot of companies have thought about care firstly in terms of parental leave, maternity leave, and helping parents, but actually if we’re talking about equipping and supporting our workers for the demands of the 21st century, our care responsibilities as individuals are changing. Women are having fewer babies, they are having them later, closer together, and fathers and grandparents are more involved than ever, so do company policies reflect this.

But then also a major responsibility for Gen X and very soon Millennials will be looking after their parents. Do companies have a policy that really is inclusive and helps people look after older people as much as young people and enable them to fulfil those duties? This is crucial, because elder care will be much longer and arguably more disruptive and intrusive to people’s work than looking after children.

Care also includes self-care, which covers everything from mental and physical to financial well-being. So, when companies are talking about care, they need to understand that they are talking about something that is multi-generational and much more expansive than just support for parents or mental health awareness days. This is what employers need to demonstrate.

Q: What causes the significant disparity between generations in the workplace, considering that family is highly valued outside of work? Why is it challenging to reconcile these differences within a professional setting compared to outside of it?

We know that the baby boomer generation are the exceptional generation. They accumulated an awful lot of wealth to the extent that one in five baby boomers in the UK is a millionaire – mostly on paper in property. They own 70% of the nation’s wealth and that money is already trickling down the generations. The bank of Mum and Dad is the sixth largest mortgage lender in the UK and that money is going to their millennial kid and grandparents are supporting their grandchildren. But also, there’s a sense that because we’re living longer, we’ve disrupted what expectations come with a certain age, particularly middle-age and old-age. We therefore feel more in touch with our children, and you’re seeing this with Gen X who are friends with their Gen Z children.

On the family side, the reasons are economic, whilst on the work side they are cultural. There’s a bigger generational gap because of technology, Gen Z are questioning the cultural corporate norms that have existed for Boomers and Gen X. Additionally, Gen Z are looking at Millennials going, you’ve worked really hard…but what have you got to show for it? They’re the generation that will not live by one salary alone and are aware that there are endless possibilities for multiple streams of revenue.

Q: What single piece of advice would you give to any company in how to navigate multi-generational workplaces?

The multi-generational workforce is not going anywhere – it’s the future. Companies need to recognise the new reality, which is we are working longer, we are disrupting the age and stage model of work where before long, if you haven’t already, you will have managers who are 25-years old, managing people over 55. You’ve got a hybrid working model which means generations are colliding less and probably misunderstanding each other more, and a working culture, which I think because of the pandemic, means there are now greater expectations on companies as to what they provide for their employees.

You have to recognise that what worked in the 20th century will not work in the 21st for two very simple reasons. Firstly, technology is changing rapidly and it is changing everything about our lives at an unprecedented pace. Secondly, our ageing society means that the life-cycle is changing and with this comes a whole range of differences, to the 20th century, including different educational needs, and care responsibilities.

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So, the 21st century life cycle really has to be at the forefront of your mind when creating policies for your employees. It’s not about how much can I offer that person or how much flexibility can I give them, but can I give them the support structure they need in order to produce the best work? Can I give them a reason to come into the office. Fundamentally, this means companies need to think about all the things we’ve discussed – understanding, empathy, effective communication, learning and education, and care.

Interviewed by Sarah-Jane Wakefield, Director and Head of Employee Communication and Engagement

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Yes, you’re #Instafamous, but are you “AI famous”?

With AI chat platforms and AI art generators such as HotPot at our fingertips, the vocabulary of Artificial Intelligence is fast-making its way into our collective lexicon. It feels like an important moment in time, similar to when Snapchat AR filters first appeared on our smartphones revolutionising the way we capture and share moments by integrating digital animations, 3D objects, and special effects into our real-world photos and videos. That happened 7 years ago in case you were wondering.

It took just a few months for digital filters to become mundane, making their way off Snapchat and everywhere else. But what we didn’t know at the time, was that dog ears were the playful gateway drug of filters, that led us down a sinister, addictive path. The tech evolved from cartoonish filters that were easy to identify, to the more insidious beauty filters designed to be disguised. What followed were face-tuning, contouring, and lip filling AR filters, which are both a cause and effect of image-first social media channels. It’s hard to decide which came first, the filler or the Kardashian?

Either, augmentation influenced reality, i.e., repeated exposure to filters influenced people into doing their make-up a certain way, leading to younger and younger people undertaking plastic surgery to change the way they look – there’s even a word for this phenomenon; ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’. Or, reality influenced augmentation, i.e., influencers doing their make-up a certain way and getting cosmetic treatments normalised a way of looking and being, which was then mimicked by the AR filters.

This cycle where cause and effect sort of chase each other around in an ever-dangerous whirlpool continues to this day. We’re aware of the dangers of course, and some of us are trying to row against the current, putting rules and regulations in place to preserve the fun, and reduce the fillers.

With time, we’re likely to see the same happen with AI. AI is a complex thing to understand, but in a nutshell, AIs are machines or software which learn how to mimic or “think” like human beings. They are doing this by combining large data sets and interpreting or organising this data. Most of the easily accessible AI tools get this data from the internet.

For now, AIs are operating with limited data sets, for instance, some tools have access to Google Images but not Instagram. But, we’re moving towards a world where more of our digital realities are connected. Which means the AIs of the future will learn about us from interpreting the things we post, share, publish, Tweet, Google, gram and more.

In the early days of the internet, search engines began organising information for us; people and brands are now only as “valuable” as how high they ranked in Google search results. So began the publishing of websites, blogs, and Wikipedia entries. With Web 2.0 and social media, if you didn’t post it, it didn’t happen. So, we began populating feeds with real-time updates about what we were eating, with who and where. What we didn’t know at the time, is that AIs would come along, and have all this data to feed on.

For brands and businesses playing the attention-grabbing game, perhaps going forward influence won’t be measured in how many people follow you on social media, or how high up you feature in Google. Instead, we’ll be typing, speaking, or thinking (yes, it will happen) questions into AIs, so they can teach us about the world. Remember how our parents grumbled about us moving from physical encyclopedias and libraries to Google? Soon we’ll be grumbling about our children refusing to Google things, but instead just taking the lazy route and asking AIs for the answer.

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It’s only a matter of time before brands come to comms agencies asking not to appear on TV or the FT but asking to reach the AIs. Because really, in the long run AIs might control social, cultural, and political discourse. In the not-so-distant future, you may not matter, unless the AIs know who you are.

I, for one, can’t wait.

By Salonee Gadgil, Digital Associate Director

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January’s negative reputation: 3 ways to fix it

The glasses are dry, the wallets are bare, and the decorations are a long distant memory. You’ve said ‘Happy New Year’ on Teams every day for the last four weeks, and you’re sure that if you say it one more time, your colleagues will have you committed. Thankfully, the month of January is almost behind us…

The internet tells us it is the most depressing month of the year, with Blue Monday, the post-holiday season and the short days and long evenings. If January were a client, it would be high risk, one that requires a strategic approach and proactive management.

Clearly, January has a reputation problem. But does the reputation match the reality? I have taken the toxicity of brand-January as gospel for years: ‘Hold off any big launches, too much real news around’, ‘‘Don’t organize events, everyone’s doing dry-Jan’. Then, last week I learnt that ‘Blue Monday’ itself was in-fact the machination of the PR machine at the now defunct Sky Travel. My foundations shaken; I sought to find a solution to fix January’s reputational crisis.

Like any good strategist, first, we dived into the data. Combing reams of articles about seasonal blues and piles of data on consumer peaks and trough. Finally, we arrived at our critical insight: January has fewer days of celebration than any other month of the year. Eureka! A strategy to fix this? We needed to find plenty of reasons to celebrate January.

Next came the tactics: what were the good days to shout about (strengths) and the bad days to steer well clear of? There were many more of the latter unfortunately: world hypnotism day (4th) – HR minefield; national squirrel appreciation day (21st) – risk of rabies; national peanut butter day (24th) – serious allergy problems; national croissant day (30th) – likely Brexit issues.

Then, we arrived at the golden nugget: three celebratory days to fix the reputation of January:

  1. Lunar New Year (22 Jan)

The Lunar New Year, like January itself, is misunderstood. Its remains clouded in controversy, having undergone its own internal re-brand of late. But once people start to learn about it, they embrace it.

Here at Hawthorn we marked the occasion with drinks and cheese (moon shaped), while many of our clients took the opportunity to mark the occasion on social. It was progress, but not nearly enough….

In 2024, let’s push the boundaries and make Lunar New Year the ‘Christmas? What Christmas’ celebration that it truly deserves to be. After all, it’s the Year of the Dragon next year. What better way to start the year?

  1. Burns Night (25 Jan)

A stalwart of the calendar year that goes criminally under-leveraged, as far as January’s profile goes. Burns Night celebrates the life of the poet Robert Burns. Our Scottish colleagues get sick of explaining what this means and why we should care.

This year we had the pleasure of taking to the Tower of London with our client who deals in scotch whisky, for a spectacular celebration, just down the corridor from the crown jewels themselves! Anyone on the fence about the strength of the occasion after that was well and truly converted by the end.

In 2024, our goal is to make Burns Night a staple of social (and client) calendar.

  1. Dry January

Dry January rallies and polarizes in equal measure. At no other time of the year does the nation rally behind a coordinated mission to not go to the pub. That sense of camaraderie and minor achievement is rarely seen outside of a major football tournament. And while some may be losing their drinking buddies, others will be gaining a temporary gym buddy. This is to be commended.

At Hawthorn, we’ve stood in solidarity by moving our January social to next month.

In 2024, Dry Jan needs to be celebrated for the achievement that it is. Perhaps a badge for all those doing it? Or a wristband?

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January may bring challenges and uncertainty, but we are excited to have had a successful and productive start to 2023. We have gained new clients, planned exciting events, and have been presented with many opportunities for growth. Let’s embrace January as an opportunity to think creatively and set a positive tone for the rest of 2023.

By Gordan Carver, Senior Director

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Sarah Sands on submitting the GEAC report to the German Chancellor Olaf Scholaz

We talk at Hawthorn about being a values driven company and sometimes we get the chance to take a stand. Last year, I chaired the G7 gender equality advisory council under UK presidency and this year I was invited back by Germany to sit on the council. I had two particular interests. First, how we measure progress and so I was delighted that Germany took up the UK proposal last year for a dashboard to provide data on how G7 countries are performing on topics ranging from the number of female led businesses to feminist diplomacy and the care economy.

Second, the searing subject of war rape, made more vivid this week by the testimony of the Ukranian first lady, Olena Zelenski. I have followed this subject since William Hague and Angelina Jolie held a summit in 2014 when I was editing the Evening Standard and I accompanied them to the DRC.

This week, the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly convened a summit on the subject of conflict related sexual violence; I was invited to compere some of the sessions and chaired one on media ethics, with a panel including journalist Christina Lamb, film maker Leslie Thomas and a survivor of Isis kidnap, called Hala.

It was harrowing to listen to the experiences of the Yazidi women, who were kept as slaves by Isis. But amidst all the economic trials and political quarrels at the moment, it was also inspiring to see the UK showing moral leadership on this subject.

Report 2022

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It coincided with the presentation of the GEAC report to the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Thursday. My small contribution was towards this same issue of war rape and, while wrapped in diplomatic language and stopping short of a new commission, which we would have liked, it has the best chance of strengthening response to this most barbaric weapon of war.

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Supporting your people during a recession

As the Bank of England warns that we could be facing our longest recession since records began, with the economic downturn expected to extend well into 2024, many businesses are facing rising costs, shrinking profits, and tough decisions. Similarly, employees are worried about soaring prices, a string of redundancies they’ve seen at high-profile companies, and uncertainty over what comes next.

Leading executives across high-growth businesses are telling us how concerned their employees are about the cost of living. In a study conducted for Hawthorn earlier this year, they told us that employees were worrying about the recession, a lack of job security, risk of redundancy, recruitment freeze, lack of pay increase, and employee retention.

The companies that will best weather this storm and come out the other side in the strongest position, are those that protect their greatest asset: their people. But what can a company do to support their employees during a recession?

  1. Talk to your people

At a time like this, it is critical to communicate regularly, consistently, and transparently with your employees. Talking openly and honestly about the company’s current situation, performance, market conditions, and plans for the future, on a regular basis, will keep employees engaged and make sure they’re in the right headspace to weather the current storm.

  1. Listen to your people

At all times, particularly during times of uncertainty and stress, employees need to feel heard. Company forums can be used to capture employee sentiment and employees should be involved in the decision-making process and co-creating solutions to the company’s problems. This is a great way in which a business could find some of the most innovative responses to the problems they are facing. co-create the solutions with them. When people feel trusted and needed and an integral part of the team, they become more committed to the organisation and its success.

  1. Avoid redundancies where possible

Don’t panic and rush to make redundancies. Some will say they are inevitable, but sometimes they can be a false economy. A string of lay-offs can have a wide and lasting impact on an organisation – not just those who are laid off. If not managed carefully and thoughtfully, redundancies negatively affect employees who are left behind. There are alternative options to be considered before landing on redundancies. You can read more in our article Definitely not the separation we would have wanted.

  1. ‘Working harder, with less’ is not the answer

If a company does have to make redundancies, introduce hiring freezes, or slim down resources, it’s important to adjust an employee’s expectations. Companies will need to communicate what the organisation is doing to ensure everyone can still do their job, at the same time as trying to save money by streamlining processes, systems, and driving a bigger programme of efficiencies. People will need to understand what these changes mean for their workload, priorities and how the organisation is going to adjust; a company can’t expect employees to continue working as hard as before on fewer resources.

  1. “Working harder, for less” isn’t the answer either

During an economic downturn, companies will inevitably need to make savings somewhere, however the best companies will ensure that their people are adequately rewarded for their work. Companies should take time to review their employee value proposition to ensure the benefits of working for their organisation are relevant for employees and are in line with their needs during this time. Even though money is tight, and businesses may not be able to offer employees a pay rise, companies must explore other routes to show financial support – such as benefits. Doing so will go a long way in boosting team spirit and showing people they are appreciated.

  1. Upskill your employees

Upskilling and reskilling your people will not only help to fill any experience or skills gaps as a result of turnover, redundancies, or hiring freezes, but it will also help support employee engagement and retention. This is because the company is showing their employees that even though the economy may have stalled, their careers have not. Ensure your employees know what opportunities are available for them to take on new roles or leadership positions, step-up, take on stretch assignments, and receive/provide mentorship.

  1. Empathetic leadership

Leaders – at all levels – are one of any company’s greatest assets when it comes to shaping the culture people and the organisation need to thrive. It is essential they are equipped to support, lead by example, and effectively communicate. People will be looking to their leaders for support and reassurance. Thoughtful leadership during challenging times builds the kind of loyalty that retains employees.

  1. Wellbeing

Employees may already be feeling stressed, burnt-out, and over-worked. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, in the first year of the pandemic the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%. This is only likely to be further exacerbated by entering the longest recession since records began.

Companies need to ensure they are clear about what support is available for their employees, who they can speak to, and what wellbeing initiatives are available to them. There are also small things that can be done like ensuring people take their holiday and creating time to take a break and connect as a team.

It will be critical for companies to really focus down on these areas to retain a strong workplace culture and avoid low morale, poor engagement, and to retain their people. Employees need reassurance, a supportive environment, and to know that you are all in it together.

By Sarah-Jane Wakefield, Head of Employee Communication and Engagement, and Arabella Kofi, Employee Communication and Engagement Executive

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Definitely not the separation we would have wanted

Those were the words of Stripe’s CEO Patrick Collison as he announced a 14% reduction in the size of his team. Redundancies are becoming a daily feature in our news, particularly amongst the tech industry and fast-growth businesses. With the likes of Twitter, Meta, Lyft, Netflix, Microsoft, Tesla, Amazon, and Salesforce, (the list goes on…) all making a string of layoffs in the face of uncertain economic conditions, some will say that redundancies are inevitable, but are they wise?

It’s not uncommon for fast-growth businesses like these to fall into the trap of hiring too many people, too quickly in periods of boom only to find themselves overstaffed in periods of stagnation or decline. But with a looming recession all companies are going to need to make difficult decisions. According to new research from ACAS, one in five employers are considering making employee redundancies in the next year.

However, even though redundancies have always been a reality of the economy, the effects are far-reaching – so they should only be the last resort!

Are redundancies a false economy?

According to the CIPD and KPMG, making a person redundant costs on average £10,000 and for some businesses even more than that. It’s not a short-term cost saving.

More importantly though, when the economy rebounds, businesses find they have a huge problem: a reduced workforce lacks the manpower and skills to effectively take advantage of the improving economy and can hamper a business’s ability to recover. It’s also not uncommon for businesses to hire back many of the people they fired – Twitter found this out earlier than most – and it can be quite an expensive endeavour!

Furthermore, the UK’s current skills shortage means it’s taking longer to fill critical positions, and this will only be made more difficult by the damage a large redundancy exercise can have on a businesses’ reputation and employer brand. Current and future employees will be watching closely, and many will think twice before working for an organisation they perceive doesn’t seem to care about its people and will make sweeping layoffs at the first sign of trouble.

…and what about those left behind?

Whilst redundancies negatively impact those who have been laid off, if not managed carefully and thoughtfully they also affect employees who are left behind. This has the potential to damage their trust in the organisation, lead to low morale, poor employee wellbeing, and a lack of engagement.

If handled badly, a wave of redundancies can also result in a leadership vacuum, inappropriate behaviour, a lack of transparency or sense of empowerment and no clear purpose. After a while, this can create fertile ground for a toxic culture to develop, stunting creativity, collaboration, and connectedness. Altogether, this reduces productivity and profitability at the worst time for the company.

What are the alternatives to redundancies?

Where possible, companies should exhaust all alternative options before landing on redundancies. It’s important to safeguard practices to ensure minimal damage and disruption for employees and the business.

One of the more common alternatives is the introduction of a hiring freeze and in recent months we’ve seen companies including Apple and Google announcing hiring slowdowns or freezes and those in turbulent industries such as cryptocurrency drawing back after a collective hiring binge.

Other options include:

  • Looking early for efficiencies and evaluating core processes and roles needed.
  • Identifying activities that are less essential or can be done more efficiently and effectively another way.
  • Reallocating people to new roles or tasks.
  • Introducing budget constraints.
  • Reducing hours of overtime.
  • Asking colleagues to take unpaid leave – for some this would be a more welcome option than losing their jobs.
  • Flexible working requests – reduced hours / days worked
  • Voluntary career breaks
  • Early retirement
  • Communication is key!

Regardless of whether a company decides to pursue redundancies or alternative cost-saving measures, dynamic leadership and communicating effectively is always important, especially amid uncertainty over the future. Being transparent about the challenges the company is facing and how it intends to overcome them will ensure workers are in the right headspace to weather the storm.

Make time to engage with people, explain the context and the vision, allow them time to process what is happening, and ensure there are processes in place to safeguard the emotional wellbeing of employees.

While such conversations are never easy, offering transparency lets employees know where they stand and what they need to do to maintain their roles and help the company through this period. These are challenging times for employers and employees alike.

But remember the decisions a business makes now will be remembered when the good times return.

By Sarah-Jane Wakefield, Head of Employee Communication and Engagement, and Arabella Kofi, Employee Communication and Engagement Executive

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Future of leadership

By Sarah Sands, Partner

The Platinum Jubilee celebrations were about 70 years of history but they also turned into a discussion of the character of leadership. The Queen is an outstanding example of servant leadership. As Charles Moore wrote in the Daily Telegraph, the Queen’s role is that of sacrificial service. She does not seek power, her motivation is vocational.

Commentators have contrasted this selflessness with political leadership which is about grasping and retaining power. George Osborne is quoted as saying about the potential coup against the Prime Minister: “Power is not given, it is taken.”

With handy timing, Hawthorn Advisors and Spencer Stuart, both of whom work with corporate leaders and search for them (we’d prefer “find and advise them”) held a dinner on the theme of the future of leadership.

The premise of the discussion was that we are undergoing a generational change in expectations of leadership. Power cannot be assumed, it has to be earned and new qualities of collaboration and empathy are required.

We are witnessing a passing of conventional leaders and followers and in its place a new form of social contract. While we see old style authoritarian leadership across the globe – most tragically in Russia – it is on the wane in corporations. Prepare for challenge – if not quite as dramatically as seen at Westminster.

Hawthorn Advisors and Spencer Stuart assembled for their round table discussion leaders of the future and the present. There were two One Young World ambassadors, Zubair Junjunia and Dara Latinwo. Zubair is an educational activist who founded ZNotes an online learning platform which reaches 3.5 million global students. Dara creates digital disruption at Deloitte.

Also at the table, representing experience and optimism, was John Flint, the former group chief executive of HSBC and now the chief executive of the UK Infrastructure Bank. Next to him, was Freshta Karim, founder of the charity Charmaghz, which runs a mobile library in Afghanistan. Freshta represents the beacon of citizen leadership. When the Taliban outlawed girls’ education, Freshta devised a way of allowing them to read.

Dr Eliza Filby provided academic credentials for our theories, drawing on her work on Generational Intelligence, from baby boomers through to post 2010 generation alpha. Poppy Mills represents transformational change, as the director of Ubitricity, formerly working on Shell’s renewables business. Sasha Dabliz, head of marketing at Waverton Investment Management knows how to direct the flow of money responsibly and profitably.

Kristina Ribas, senior strategy manager at Shell, who began her career at Goldman Sachs, was also questioning of traditional routes and warned of the conflict of using past leadership models to predict the future. Stephanie Edwards, Head of Sectors Strategy at Cop26 was at the heart of transformation, while Charlotte Appleyard, Deputy Director of Development at the Royal Academy of Arts showed the pluck of a young woman leading distinguished elders down new paths. This, said Katy Jarratt, from Spencer Stuart, was the way of the future. Spencer Stuart are busy appointing under 35s to boards and watching the response of the 60 year olds who must answer to them. Generational Intelligence in action.

John Evans, CEO of Hawthorn Advisors, described the entrepreneurial opportunities and challenges of rapid growth with a diverse work force. Zubair began the discussion by talking of motivating volunteers; this requires passion, purpose and mission rather than didactic instruction. John Flint called this catalyst leadership. He also defined the boundaries of leadership; you can set a strategy but you cannot “ lead” on process, such as technology. You are leading people. He added, with the wryness of experience: “ You have to know yourself, and knowledge comes with scars.” You can avoid vulnerability by staying behind your desk but only by risking vulnerability can you achieve a modern kind of leadership. There are two ways of leading, by fear and money, or positively. Inspiration has the longest tail.

Eliza agreed that change has come.

“There has been 30 years of turning humans into robots and robots into humans.”

What does it mean to talk of human leadership? Sasha asked about the evolution of leadership. Are leaders born or made? Learning is now a more communal process and the new work force is drawn to the creative and the unconventional. John Evans called for the alchemy of new ideas combined with experience. Theories have to work in practice.

Dara pointed out that we look for omnipotent leaders in our entertainment, the Marvel superhero. How does that square with vulnerability? Dara posited that leadership needn’t be visible and voluble. It could be invisible and valuable. Mobile libraries in Afghanistan could be an example of leadership as doing good. If leadership becomes communal there are consequences to that. Katy asked which leaders are prepared to take on all the baggage of others. Narcissism is a familiar characteristic of leadership, even among the good leaders. The dangers of leadership were underlined by Eliza – it can’t just be about an ability to have followers. This allows for populists and maniacs.

Freshta talked of the hard choices affecting leadership, including engaging with the oppressor. She said that the leadership open to all of us, is to do what we can, and to encourage open debate even if means sacrificing popularity, or worse. Freshta’s aim is to work for a “ better truth,” through grass roots platforms. Leadership is a facilitation of this. Leadership also demands example.

Several round the table warned about corporate spin without substance. Beware those who got to the top merely by having the sharpest elbows and the determination to shape their own mythology. The different framing of leadership for women and for men was also raised. Eliza picked up that Poppy used the word “ accessible “ leadership rather than “vulnerable. ” Poppy agreed she chose the word carefully. Women are wary of being described as vulnerable.

Charlotte pointed out that leadership under scrutiny changes expectations. Decisions made in jobs in which the public have an awareness or a stake are much more glaring. Stephanie spoke up for the outliers, the radicals, for example on climate, who push the boundaries so that the middle ground shifts slightly for the realists and the pragmatists. She also laid down one essential for leadership, evidence that you care for those who work for you. James Nicoll at Spencer Stuart added the virtues of resilience and empathy.

Who got the table’s votes as role model leaders? John chose Alison Rose, Chief Executive of NatWest Group as an example of modern leadership, Eliza went for Margaret Thatcher as a leader who led rather than followed, Sasha chose Peter Harrison, CEO of Schroders, for his moral compass and for wearing leadership lightly. John Flint said those who speak truth to power and named Alexei Navalny and in happily different circumstances, his predecessor at HSBC Stuart Gulliver.

Freshta wanted a leader who could end wars, Stephanie called for Dame Barbara Woodward, UK ambassador to the UN, Charlotte for former US ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun and for the artist Ai Weiwei, Dara for Sasha Romanovitch, former CEO of Grant Thornton, for sticking to principles, Katy for Bernard Looney, CEO of BP who leads with vulnerability and transparency. Turning to the world of sport, James Nicoll of Spencer Stuart suggested Toto Wolff, the CEO of the Mercedes-AMG F1 team, who leads through a management style of empathy and empowerment. Zubair thought for a bit, then came back with Muhammad Yanus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur who pioneered microcredit. All leaders who make a difference rather than serving time.

The collaborative nature of the evening was achieved partly by swerving political leadership. Hard power is not the same as soft power. Hawthorn Advisors and Spencer Stuart will continue discussions of the nature of leadership through different forums and events during the next years.

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Best of British

By Sarah Sands, Partner

As Platinum Jubilee flags appeared on the streets and the Chelsea Flower Show put native nature on show, Hawthorn Advisors CEO John Evans and Hawthorn partner Sarah Sands welcomed a group of extraordinary talents to our Best of British dinner. They were there to answer a pressing question: what makes Britain great?

Our guests were an eclectic mix. Ten years after delighting the world with the cauldron that provided the climax to the London Olympics, the designer Thomas Heatherwick arrived having created a new talking point, the Tree of Trees sculpture, in celebration of the Jubilee. A royal theme was taken up by Anthony Geffen, whose Atlantic Productions have just made the visually stunning documentary on the crown jewels.

From the world of science and technology we had the leader of the Whittle Laboratory, Rob Miller; Frank Strang, CEO of the SaxaVord Spaceport UK and Daniel Golding, global head of corporate communications at McLaren. Anabel Kindersley, co-owner of Neal’s Yard Remedies and nature campaigner brought insight into sustainability. The entrepreneurial dynamism that Britain is looking was embodied by Trinny Woodall, who has created a multi-million-pound company built on women’s beauty products, Andrew Roberts, senior vice president of corporate relations and engagement at Burberry and Meredith O’Shaughnessy, the brand strategist.

It was terrific to welcome Emma Bridgewater, who has not only created a brilliant brand but also revived the art of pottery in Stoke on Trent, and Mark Cropper, whose commercial paper mill has a global reach, and who is now exploring handmade paper craft in the Lake District.

Antonia Romeo, who used to run the GREAT campaign to promote British exports and investment was there to keep us on our mettle, Elizabeth Adekunle, chaplain to the Queen, to ensure we did not lose sight of our humanity.

To kick us off, Antonia reminded us of the original concept of the GREAT campaign. Soft power. It is business, culture and people that create and innovate, with government playing a facilitative role.

And with that in mind we were away, the conversation flowing between big philosophical questions about the British character and big practical questions about the role of government, such as can the government facilitate business during a period of massive financial constraints?

A consensus emerged, led by Rob Miller and Frank Strang: we need more of a liberating vision, less of a strangling bureaucracy. It was not so much a matter of public funding, but of belief in the innovators.

Rob reminded us that leadership in innovation demands conviction and speed. At Cambridge, the vision of a UK “Bell Lab” nurturing critical early stage technology is ready to break ground. £34 million has been raised and there is £20 million to go. Will leadership come from private companies such as Rolls Royce and James Dyson or government funded bodies?

The hard thing for governments, we agreed, is risk taking. “If only the UK Government could find better ways of funding the gut feelings of its leading innovators then the UK economy would be turbo charged and at a fraction of the current research spend,” said Rob. Frank noted the distinction between governmental and private spend. In the space race it is individuals, such as Elon Musk, supported by government to take big risks, who are leading. And it is Americans who are more likely to visit Shetland at the moment. Where we have a combined advantage of innovative technology and geography – Shetland could not be better placed – we must not falter.

We explored tech, including Anthony Geffen’s belief that immersive virtual reality will soon displace the iPhone and that the metaverse is the next revolution. Trinny Woodall was bewildered that we continue to turn out graduates who can read Milton but do not understand the tech economy. And, talking of economics, puzzled that men seemed so poor to judging businesses run by women.

But before we lost ourselves in the metaverse, Emma Bridgewater and Mark Cropper, united in a Quaker philosophy, reminded us of the dignity of making things and providing jobs in places that needed them. Liz Adekunle reminded us that we have a responsibility towards others and should remember the lesson of the pandemic: those key workers who kept the country running, rather than those who ran the country. Anabel Kindersley also spoke for social purpose, and for doing the right thing. She was dismayed that the government’s decision to lift the ban on use of neonicotinoid pesticides for use on sugar beet is killing bees again and has harnessed a coalition of businesses to find some solutions at a forthcoming Bee Symposium.

Little by little, a consensus emerged. The Best of British is scientific ambition, creative possibilities, a business-friendly environment and…something intangible. Thomas Heatherwick summed it up. When artificial intelligence takes over most tasks, what will be left is imagination. Slogans are not enough. You can’t just say Glorious Great Britain, like Incredible India or Amazing Asia. We have to show what we can do.

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Sarah-Jane Wakefield an internal communications specialist joins Hawthorn as a Director

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Sarah-Jane Wakefield who has joined Hawthorn as a Director. Sarah-Jane specialises in internal communications with over 20 years of experience in global corporate communications, employee engagement, leadership communications, and organisational and cultural transformation.

Sarah-Jane has joined Hawthorn from Standard Chartered Bank where she was Head of Group Internal Communications overseeing all global internal communications and employee engagement across 96k people in over 70 markets and responsible for the CEO’s leadership communications. More recently she was Global Head of Communications for People and Culture driving strategic communications to support the Bank’s culture, organisation, and people transformation.

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Felix Meston a technology, media and financial services specialist joins Hawthorn as a Director

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Felix Meston who has joined Hawthorn as a Director. For over 10 years Felix has been a trusted advisor to corporates, startups and executives on communications strategy, narrative development, global media relations, thought leadership and ESG-related issues. He specialises in the technology, media, and financial services sectors. He has previously held senior communications roles at mytaxi (formerly Hailo), Europe’s largest taxi app, and Global, the media and entertainment company.

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Time to activate your influencers…

It’s a tough time to be a journalist in the traditional media. According to the Reuters Digital News Report, only 15% of the UK population had used print news in the last week, down 7% on 2020. Alongside this, the numbers watching TV in the UK have dropped by 20% in the last seven years.

The future for the media will be very different, and this demands a dramatic rethink of corporate communications tactics. Already, corporates and leaders are losing the influence and trust they once held – outside of their business – due to a digital strategy of silence and an out-of-date approach to the way they speak to their stakeholders.

Shifting sands
The change we are seeing is fundamental. It isn’t just about how people get their news, it’s about whether they want news at all. In the latest Reuters Institute for Journalism Report, Nic Newman describes an ongoing “decline in interest in the news overall” as well as the channels delivering them. Many people are more likely to turn to the feeds of campaigners than the words of journalists to learn about the world.

That change has inverted the relationship that stakeholders have with corporates, executives, and their employees. Previously, tradtional media organisations, multinational brands and high-powered CEOs could be considered trusted authorities. Now, due to the almost limitless amount of information presented online, the power has switched from the company to the individuals within it.

Digital channels should be in the hands of your storytellers
Adapting the communications tactics doesn’t mean abandoning everything that has gone before. Your digital strategy is best placed alongside your traditional communications strategy.

Delivering a consistent message across platforms increases your authority amongst your stakeholders. But that doesn’t mean saying exactly the same thing across every channel; you can share your message in different forms on different channels.

For a long time, the job of digital communications was given to sales and marketing teams, overlooking the natural story-telling capabilities of the communications teams and agencies to run their digital newsrooms and channels. However, some leaders embraced the potential of a new digital approach early. Richard Branson’s use of digital set the tone for the likes of BP’s Bernard Looney. Looney uses his LinkedIn to promote company initiatives, praise staff and provide news on speaking engagements. This approach allows him to make an authentic connection and helps humanise the BP brand.

This approach is not an accident. Both individuals not only write posts themselves, but tie up with their company communications teams to ensure consistent, company-relevant content is uploaded at timely intervals, keeping the channel active and interesting. This allows for a consistent delivery of company key messages alongside personal updates that demonstrate their credentials as leaders.

Use you digital channels to create human connections
As consumers are more likely to “trust someone like us”, activating employees and leaders as influencers across your own (and their own) channels is critical to creating advocates.

Building influencers out of employees has delivered success for the likes of Walmart, which transformed 500 employees into influencers under their Spotlight initiative. This has seen the brand become a force on TikTok through its “Walmart Cheers” and “Walmart dance parties.” By giving a voice to its front-line associates, Walmart is humanizing its brand and offering customers authentic, relatable content that they actually want to see and engage with.

Brands and business leaders that build a rapport with their audiences stand a better chance of creating advocates. Building these advocates out of audiences, through a two-way conversation, will also increase crisis resilience, when an issue arises.

Digital natives are less likely to visit a news website, or be committed to impartial news… [they are] … more likely to say they use social media as their main source of news. Deeply networked, they have embraced new mobile networks like Instagram and TikTok for entertainment and distraction, to express their political rage – but also to tell their own stories in their own way.

Finally…
Few modern businesses ignore digital communications. Equally, relatively few make the very most of their true potential online. As traditional media suffers, and the way consumers learn about the world changes, communications strategies will have to change more radically than ever before.

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Jamie Plotnek a sustainability, climate and ESG specialist joins Hawthorn as a Director

We are delighted to welcome Jamie Plotnek who joins Hawthorn as a Director. Jamie is a sustainability, climate and ESG specialist, with more than 15 years of experience advising companies and charities on confronting environmental challenges. He joined Hawthorn from the international non-profit Climate Group, where he developed and led a global campaign on zero emission vehicles. Jamie’s previous roles included leading communications on climate and energy at Unilever and heading up business and public sector engagement for one of Britain’s biggest climate change campaigns.

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What should a spokesperson do if they are about to go on air?

Hawthorn’s Board Director, Guto Harri, spent 18 years at the BBC before taking on some of the most demanding roles in communications. He presented a number of flagship programmes, was posted to Rome and New York and became the corporation’s Chief Political Correspondent before joining Boris Johnson as his Spokesman and Director of External Affairs at City Hall. In recent weeks he has featured as a commentator on the BBC, Newsnight, CNN, Sky News and many more. We asked him: what advice would you give a spokesperson about to go on air?

Answering the phone to a studio producer who puts you straight on air isn’t generally a good idea; I love it and the day starts with a glorious surge of adrenalin. But I had 18 years to practice. I often speak to Nick Ferrari on LBC before I’ve greeted my wife. But picking the right time, place and outlet to put yourself out there is otherwise a good starting point for any live, on-air commitment. Some of us are bad at breakfast. Others are jaded by teatime, and Newsnight is well beyond bedtime. Play to your strengths.

Think hard about location
Most media – these days – give you the option of joining from home or going into the studio. Choose the latter if possible. You will look better. The sound will be richer. The Wi-Fi won’t go down. More importantly, you’ll form a bond with the presenter, and stepping onto a properly-lit set will get you appropriately psyched for the occasion. Home is clearly in your comfort zone, but addressing a bigger audience with limited time and a trained interrogator takes more energy, focus and projection than most of us can engineer over a laptop.

Work out why you’re there? Do their requirements coincide with yours? Are you commissioned to attack or defend? Both involve taking some pain. Think of how you can add context, perspective, or nuance and your insights will land better with a broader audience.

Make it memorable
Go light on facts and numbers. Pick one or two that speak volumes and drop the rest. No one’s interested in how hard you work or how much you know. A tasty bone that the audience can chew on is better than a carcass that overwhelms. Tell them something they haven’t heard, and flag it. Make them feel you’re sharing a secret, breaking a confidence, or telling a tale others would keep quiet. Think anecdote, parallel and metaphor whilst gently reminding them of your authority or credibility on the subject.

Surprise the interviewer
I challenge myself to surprise the interviewer, making them gasp or even laugh. Pick playful words, create some frisson, or pass on a killer phrase. A former aide to Boris Johnson told me some months ago he’d happily help him again – if he moved swiftly. He was – however – not interested in going back to “walk him to the gallows”. Five words, lobbed into an otherwise pedestrian answer, clearly tickled Laura Kuensberg and Adam Fleming when I joined them for their Newscast recently.

The masochist in me couldn’t resist an on air confession in another recent hit. When most of the world wanted to disown and condemn any association with drink-fuelled “work meetings” with Boris Johnson, I fessed up to launching “wine o clock” in his Mayoral days at city hall. Mad? Maybe. But not against the rules. And the reason why – I remembered very clearly how hard it was to get him to attend. He really isn’t a party animal. Saying that falls on a lot of deaf ears in the current climate. Painting the picture may just have opened some eyes.

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Name Role

Which brings me to my final point…
No one gets invited back to trot out the same old lines. Say something worth saying – from memory, experience or deep reflection. If an answer can be clipped and posted onto social media you will definitely have ticked their box.

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Singapore’s sling, good COP bad COP and Russia and Ukraine’s battle of Britain

Policy preview: Singapore’s sling
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and G20 agreement to implement a global minimum 15% corporate tax faces a long road to implementation, particularly as governance standards for policing adherence remain undefined. Singapore is likely to prove a key test case. It has a 17% corporate tax, but offers an array of incentives that can reduce this significantly for many corporate residents, including those tech giants who operate regional headquarters from the city-state or the investment managers based there.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged as much earlier this month, noting that the city state will have to see how its current tax incentives “will have to be modified”. Singapore is not a member of the OECD, unlike many other alleged ‘tax havens,’ or the G20, but has signalled support for the effort for years now, and members of its government have called out the “artificial shifting of profits” to minimise their tax bills in the past, even as others have accused Singapore of profiteering off such practices.

Singapore remains well-positioned as a corporate hub outside tax competition, but it is nonetheless still likely to ensure that its business environment is as attractive as possible for the multinationals and other businesses that make their home there. It is set to benefit from concerns about the political environment in Hong Kong as well as its membership in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), due to come into effect next year.

Singaporean authorities have indicated that they will seek to take action aimed at making Singapore an even friendlier business environment, including by offering incentives to hire locals and lowering requirements for leasing government-owned office space, a considerable portion of Singapore’s commercial property stock.

However, the temptation for tax adjustments may prove too great – particularly as its strident COVID-19 regulations and increased requirements for permanent residency visas have raised concerns about the quality-of-life and employment advantages it has long held.

Singaporean authorities may state they do not intend to continue to compete on a tax basis, but such declarations have been made in the past with little follow-through. The extent to which it is possible to enforce and regulate the OECD-G20 agreements is likely to be evidenced by Singapore’s corporate tax adjustments.

Power play: good COP bad COP
COP26 has set the stage for a new series of measures to stimulate private markets for climate financing.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the conference to renew a longstanding goal, first agreed at the 2009 iteration of the COP conference, to provide US$100bn of climate finance – intended to enable developing countries’ attempts to mitigate and adapt in the face of climate change – annually by 2020.

One year beyond the deadline this target has not been met. Latest OECD estimates show climate finance amounted to some US$80bn in 2019, three-quarters of it provided on a state-to-state basis. Announcements made during COP26 suggest the target will not be met until 2023. Diplomats and negotiators are hard at work trying to pull together enough public and private finance to make the target. Building on Germany and Japan’s positions as the largest providers of climate finance in 2019, we have seen new commitments in recent weeks from the UK, Italy, and Denmark, while US climate envoy John Kerry is confident that the total will be met in 2022. So far, so good?

It is not so simple – what is meant by ‘climate finance’ is itself contested. There are a range of definitions, accounting for the financial instruments used (such as loans or grants), whether contributions are from the private or public sector, and the favourability of interest rates or notice periods. The OECD’s definition of climate finance is broad, encompassing grants, loans and export finance credits from both public and private sectors.

Many developing countries find this definition overly generous, arguing that it obscures how useful and beneficial climate finance might be. For instance, many contributions focus on development projects with only a partial focus on climate goals, and very often governments do not meet their fair share of climate finance contributions.

This contributes to the anger and mistrust felt by developing nations. The founder of a Nairobi-based climate charity, said that the missed US$100bn in 2020 had “hugely damaged” trust in the UN climate summit process, while the Gambia’s energy minister has said that the consequences for developing nations would be grave: “It would be catastrophic because we need those resources”.

This widespread feeling that developed countries cannot be trusted to pull their weight is a challenge to negotiations at COP26, where talks are being held to determine target levels of climate finance beyond 2025. Geopolitical pressure on wealthy countries to deliver is growing. The bulk of climate finance at present is public, but given the political headwinds we can expect to see OECD countries lean on the private sector to find the environmentally and politically necessary levels of finance.

“We [the world’s least-developed countries] bear the biggest brunt of the impact of climate change and we would like to see the commitment that was taken by the developed countries be fulfilled” Lamin B Dibba, The Gambia’s Environment Minister

Dollars and sense: Russia and Ukraine’s battle of Britain

Moscow and Kyiv have been locked in war in eastern Ukraine for some seven years now. Casualties remain a weekly occurrence on the frontlines, even as life goes on largely unaffected in both capitals. The bitter falling out between the erstwhile close allies has had ramifications for international gas markets, NATO, and much more. One front of the conflict has even struck into the heart of Britain, which while not a violent threat, could have major ramifications outside the scope of the conflict.

On 11 November, the UK Supreme Court is due to hold its final hearing in a lawsuit between the two sovereign states, as Kyiv claims that Moscow foisted a US$3bn bond loan on the former, disgraced, government of President Viktor Yanukovych (whose ouster in large part sparked the war) in 2013. Subsequent Ukrainian governments have refused to repay, arguing duress. Russia for its part argues that though the loan was structured under UK laws, that these arguments are not justiciable in the UK.

Ultimately, Kyiv’s bar for a ‘victory’ is lower than Russia’s – if the Supreme Court merely orders a full trial on the merits of any of the various legal arguments Ukraine has made (legal scholars have labelled its approach a ‘kitchen sink strategy) then a series of further appeals by Russia can be expected and the bond will remain outstanding.

The British government has in the past indicated it does not approve of Russia’s approach to the bond, though suggestions that it legislate in support of Kyiv have been dismissed as unworkable – and caused concern this could undermine London’s position as a key market for selling emerging market debt. London and New York have long been the preferred markets for doing so, with their respective legal regimes providing comfort to investors.

Anything other than a ruling in favour of Russia, however, risks affecting London’s attractiveness as a market for such debt – if there is an argument of coercion, this will likely be picked up by activists from groups like the Jubilee Debt Campaign. As is so often the case, much will be determined by the messaging around the ruling and whether Russia seeks to engage in a public relations effort over the judgement. This should be expected; British banks and investors should be prepared for Moscow engaging in its own effort to disparage the standards of English law for such contracts in the event of an adverse ruling.

“Is it really incomprehensible that such an unprecedented policy of double standards could open a Pandora’s box, cause enormous damage to global finances and generally undermine confidence in international financial institutions”

former President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev
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Sarah Sands moderates a roundtable discussion with Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate and UK newspaper editors and broadcasters ahead of COP26

The last time I was in a room full of newspaper editors it was to discuss press regulation, so naturally all ended in mutiny. On Friday, before Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate headed off to protest against investment in fossil fuel projects, and then onto Glasgow, I introduced them to media decision makers in a private, round table discussion hosted by the Natural History Museum.

This time there was a wholly different spirit and purpose. Greta has remarkable convening power, but as moderator I had wondered whether the journalists would feel they were being lectured. They didn’t. Here was huge media influence coming together in one room, abandoning cynicism, ready to listen and to take responsibility for informing the public and holding government to account.

Greta was also ready to listen, facts at her fingertips but never hectoring. Her faith is in the people rather than the politicians and thus she turns to the media. This slight figure, remarkably composed, speaking perfect English, can hold a room of media leaders who reach millions. Alongside her was a figure of comparable charisma, the Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, talking of the moral responsibility towards the global south, which is responsible for a tiny percentage of the world’s carbon emissions, yet pays the highest price in loss and damage.

The media leaders talked, under Chatham House Rule, of their commitments and challenges. How to keep readers interested in a story both existential and urgent without overwhelming and alienating them? How to balance short-term gains – energy security – with medium term destruction?

The climate scientist Professor Simon Lewis, who joined Greta and Vanessa at the meeting, does not mince his words about the scale of the threat to “human civilisation”. Lewis claims in his book The Human Planet, that human kind is a geological force, changing everything, forever.

Greta and Vanessa wanted to meet the media decision makers because galvanising public opinion and keeping pressure on governments are crucial if we are going to get to net zero. The media are good at that. Indeed, Greta has said of the media: “You are our last hope.” There was honest self-examination during the session. One editor raised the rule of journalism that you cannot keep doing the same story and keep reader attention, but then observed that coverage of Covid had shattered that rule.

We discussed the lessons from the pandemic, during which media played an important role in informing the public and persuading them to get vaccinated.

There were further insights: television was thought to have an advantage over print in covering climate because of the power of images. Our senior journalists agreed that humanising and personalising the issue helped with engagement. They also emphasised that hope was important.

Audiences, particularly for financial media, like reading about technological solutions. Can journalists discriminate between aspiration and realistic achievement? Can even scientists be sure of what is going to work?

The editors talked about representing climate stories through entertainment or graphics or on the weather pages, in order to keep audiences engaged. It can be a tough sell: according to George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It, our brains are tragically hard wired to avoid thinking about climate change.

Friday was a thought provoking session from a group of media leaders who have power and recognise responsibility. The final words came from Vanessa Nakate, who had found herself erased from media photographs when she spoke at the youth forum in Milan, an editing decision that seemed symbolic of the lack of attention paid to the global south in discussions about climate change. “Whose story are you telling?” she asked.

Then Greta headed off for her next protests, a small, self-contained figure, immediately mobbed by her supporters. An 18-year-old activist who has become a world figure.

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