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COMMENT: Women are half held back – and they must not be

By Greig Baker, Chief Executive

I am a white, middle class, man born to loving parents living in the South East of England – so my personal experience of prejudice is pretty limited. But as the father of young daughters, the scales are starting to fall as I see the women my girls aspire to be getting held back every day.

Donald Trump calling his own daughter “a piece of ass” is shocking because it is so extreme. But the same offence was committed closer to home when a British journalist described Theresa May’s male co-chief of staff as “intellectual and ambitious” yet said her female co-chief of staff is “smart and sassy”. The problem can be found outside politics, too. It was eye-popping when a BBC commentator in Rio casually mused that Jason Kenny would be asking his four-time Olympic champion fiancé Laura Trott “what’s for tea?”, for example.

I do not believe the answer lies in more legislation or in Government trying to ban things. Instead, people in business and politics can volunteer practical steps to solve this horribly outdated problem.

In business, flexible working hours – and how they are filled – is key. The way new parents juggle work and childcare is becoming more varied, so the gender balance of staff available at different levels of management in a company is getting harder to predict. Instead of arbitrary quotas for the number of women and men in each role, companies should make equal numbers of hours available to men and women at every level of the business – and only adjust those numbers if it is proven that a balanced workforce cannot deliver the required hours through existing staff, promoting people ready to move up, or new hires. This means the best people available, male or female, would always have an opportunity to take the next step in their career.

In politics, there is room for more direct action. A representative democracy should be, well, representative. People who are active in a political party (including me) should pledge to spend more time encouraging women to become candidates, supporting them, and helping them to get elected. In my view, (and I know this is a lot to ask) men who are considering a run for political office should even go a step further and first look for an equally or more qualified woman who wants to stand for the same post – and lend their efforts to that campaign instead.

The youngest ever Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai, says “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”. Small steps in business and politics could give our daughters the  opportunities they deserve – and end the bane of #HalfHeldBack.


POLITICS: EU-funded transport infrastructure in doubt

The Chancellor has been keen to reassure investors that HMT will replace lost EU funds post-Brexit. The DfT, however, has a much more qualified position. Parliamentary Under-Secretary Andrew Jones says replacing EU funding will be reviewed “in the round” and decisions on specific projects will be made in “the UK’s national interest”.

POLITICS: NEDs hint at new infrastructure policy

The Government has been filling gaps in its advisory staff ahead of a shift in policy to be announced around the Autumn Statement. Appointments have been made up to Non-Executive Director level in Departments like the DfT, in a bid to hire people with in-depth experience of privatisation, deregulation and PFI deals.

POLITICS: Local elections in 2017

Next year’s round of local elections will be telling. It will be UKIP’s first attempt to defend the gains made in its 2013 surge, as well as a vital chance for the LibDems to build on their local by-election successes. For the Government, Andy Street’s run in the West Midlands will also test the Conservatives’ ability to sell their industrial strategy in a region packed full of marginal parliamentary seats. In fact, this race will be so important to the Tories that thought is already being given to how policy making in Westminster now could help shape the result next year.

POLITICS: Conspiracy vs cock up

To say Government mistakes are more often due to cock up than conspiracy is to use a hackneyed phrase that normally holds true. However, Labour’s absence from the political field has encouraged early coordination between the Government’s opponents in the Lords and some senior Civil Servants. The new administration has an incentive to be provocative (being forced to go to the country for a mandate has some appeal) and some mandarins seem to have risen to the bait – flashing details of the grammar schools policy to Downing Street snappers was a strangely naïve thing for a senior Civil Servant to do, for instance.

POLITICS: Turkeys vote for Christmas

Talk of an early general election has been notably absent this week. The story was originally pushed by Labour spinners trying to provoke an outbreak of “discipline under duress” among their unhappy backbenchers. Sources from the Conservative Government have consistently and emphatically denied any plans for an early poll. The most realistic chance of that changing, ironically, would come about if the Opposition parties in the Commons and (more importantly) Lords manage to cripple the Government’s domestic agenda.

Brexit will be 'hard'

One of the big topics we work on is assessing what leaving the EU will actually look like.

In our view, it’s hard to see anything but a version of ‘hard Brexit’. The details vary greatly from sector to sector, but the consistent theme is the position of our prospective negotiating partners in Brussels.

It may sound simplistic, but if the European Union was the sort of organisation that will offer us a “soft Brexit” deal now, they probably would have given David Cameron enough to persuade voters to stay in.

There will be significant new opportunities for some businesses, but for others it will be painful. Brexiteers argue it’s better to make that adjustment quickly, rather than be a boiling frog caught by the EU’s rules.

More importantly, businesses that understand what the UK Government plans to do to boost different sectors and the wider economy after 2020, will have a competitive advantage in their investment decisions now.

The GUIDE to the week, 23rd September

Refreshing the parts other PMs can’t reach

Many of David Cameron’s former advisers expect a ‘manifesto refresh’ to be announced in Birmingham next week. This would make sense: some of those in the new administration see little downside to provoking parliamentary opponents, then potentially being ‘forced’ to go to the country for an explicit (and, presumably, sizeable) mandate of their own.

Steady as CCS goes

Malcolm Harrison has been confirmed in post as Crown Commercial Service (CCS) Chief Exec – a position he’s had on an interim basis since May. Making the temporary team permanent hints at a confirmed long-term agenda on public spending and contracts that has Ministerial backing in the Cabinet Office.

Every Corbyn has a silver lining

Labour might be glad to avoid Owen Smith’s demand for a second EU referendum. John Curtice (one of the few psephologists to come out of last year’s General Election with his reputation intact) reports that voters’ attitudes to Brexit haven’t changed since June. In fact, they may have hardened – not least in light of short term economic conditions being better than some predicted. Importantly, the wider public’s stance on Brexit will have a continuing effect on Government policy.

DCLG limits investors’ profit in land

The Government has published its letter confirming that land bought after 8th September near potential transport project sites will be valued for compulsory purchase as if the transport project wasn’t happening. This means investors hoping to gain from guessing which parcels of land will be compulsorily purchased for projects like HS2 stand to make significantly smaller returns – if any at all.

Cameron doesn’t keep the seat warm

The Prime Minister may be forgiven for wishing David Cameron had held on until the General Election before standing down. His safe seat of Witney could have provided a welcome harbour for one of the existing Tory MPs likely to lose their own seat in the upcoming boundary review.


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