The Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 is ‘post-truth’, which it defines as relating to circumstances where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.
We now certainly seem to be living in a ‘post truth’ world, with the Brexit campaign and US presidential election almost defined by debased political debate. Any relationship with facts often seemed purely coincidental.
They were not alone. This past year has seen rampant, often silent, populism seize the steering wheel, with people across the world apparently voting against whatever anyone in established authority tells them to vote for. It is important that politicians hear this disquiet, much of it against globalisation and an austerity proving painful only for some; and that we as individuals and businesses start to listen as well.
At this crossroads with a new year it is disquieting that more than 50% of the world’s wealth is owned by just 62 people, whilst at the same time two-thirds of European countries have youth unemployment higher than 20%. With the structural changes brought about by digitisation more people than ever now rely on low quality, insecure employment. There are also growing threats from the same advances to many professional jobs. Add into this profound technological change the vast movement of displaced people and the ingredients exist for greater civil unrest than we have faced for several generations.
We cannot be passive observers to all this, but must act on it. Meaningful work, life chances for our children, decent incomes, affordable housing, resilient and inclusive communities, and protection for the environment must be central to business planning.
For these reasons I was delighted when the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (of which I am a member) recently affirmed a plan to focus on core strategic themes seeking to build resilient economies around the world; to develop connected communities to leverage knowledge, and gave support to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Doing our bit
We at Kreston Reeves are determined that our firm and international network support this work. You can find out more about the UN sustainability goals at www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/ I would encourage everyone to look for ways to embrace some of these within their own lives as we have done.
One lesson from the goals is clear: everything is local eventually. An inclusive economy is one that builds sustainable businesses or organisations with a strong attachment to place. Local supply chains create more local employment, retaining more wealth and opportunity in the community. None of this is new to us. As a business wedded to the communities we serve, Kreston Reeves always seeks to employ other local businesses. We also take on 30 students a year from our areas of operation. And I am very proud that 20 per cent of partners and employees have a formal voluntary fundraising role or appointment.
But politicians must do their bit, too. They need to invest in Brexit, to excite and unite with a vision; and certainly to send a clear signal that we are ‘open for business’ to the whole world. That means in practical terms investing more in our national infrastructure, including relevant education. As an island nation we depend as we always have done on trade and skills. That will never change whatever else does.
Reasons to be cheerful
Although we are looking to a year ahead that already seems fractured by uncertainty over what will emerge from a Trump presidency, a bullish Russia and elections in Germany, Holland and France, we should hold our nerve.
There are also powerful counter forces shaping our world: technology is driving global connections at an increasing pace, irrespective of other turmoils. Concerns about migration and economic exclusion, whilst not to be ignored, can ultimately be resolved by political will, as have major crises in the past. For those reasons I remain confident that the tide of history for a more open society will not be reversed. Despite its faults and concentration of wealth, internationalism has brought immeasurable benefits to many people.
But that is not an argument for ignoring anxieties. We have a duty to address the concerns of those who feel excluded from economic growth and also to expect more from our politicians.
My optimistic expectation is that as we do so what will emerge is a new economy, one less dependent on driving productivity growth through efficiency and more on the value of time and attention. The human service sectors, for example, which ranges from care provision through to culture, will thrive. And we have an edge. The UK creative sector in our economy is dynamic and world leading and will continue to be so. I am sure that revitalising the concept of service will increase profit but also help social engagement and cohesion.
At Kreston Reeves we certainly look forward to continuing to serve you, your business and the communities in which we operate. We will be at your side to help avoid the pitfalls and traps that may lie ahead, but also to applaud your triumphs.
And of course there will be some wonderful things to celebrate in 2017, not least the 50th anniversary of a musical milestone, ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by the Beatles. Perhaps this Christmas we should listen again to when Sgt Pepper taught the band to play and reflect that perhaps the album, like the world, is not ageing too badly despite it all.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year to you all.