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Why chronic short-termism is holding the UK back

Plus, discover your unknown superpower, Monzo's CEO speaks after its first profitable year, consumer spending slows and a tribute to a legend

Flag of United Kingdom on wooden background

Innovation and growth have always been essential tiles in the mosaic of a thriving economy. A report released today by the Council of Geostrategy, which is backed by Phones4u founder John Caudwell and former prime minister Tony Blair, has laid down the gauntlet for the next government. It sets out the views of more than 60 scientists, innovators, business leaders, policymakers and policy experts. As Caudwell says:

When I look at the UK today, I cannot help but feel something is not working. Whether it is our strained public services, crumbling buildings, raw sewage discharged into our rivers, or our lethargic economy, we seem to have resigned ourselves to the idea that ‘this is just how it is now’. I do not accept this. I believe Britain can do much better.

The report’s aim is to investigate how the country can build a greener, more competitive and more resilient science and technology base. While the ‘green’ part is the primary focus, the report’s findings offer analysis into bigger problems across the UK’s business landscape. It identifies several shortcomings that need addressing. These include: 

An incoherent strategy

The UK’s current approach to science and technology lacks a coherent long-term vision. Frequent policy changes have created an unstable environment, discouraging investment and hindering long-term planning for researchers.

Stagnant business investment

While UK R&D expenditure has increased, business investment has stagnated, showing potential for improvement.

Bureaucratic burden

The current application process for funding is cumbersome, particularly for small businesses. Streamlining this process and offering lighter-touch funding options would be beneficial to small businesses.

Risk aversion

The UK should be more comfortable with calculated risks in research and development.

John Caudwell
John Caudwell

A number of the issues raised in the report are echoed by business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry and the British Chambers of Commerce. Key to many of them, says the report, is short-termism, which is stopping the UK from reaching its true potential: 

Part of the explanation for Britain’s uneven economic and technological performance lies with His Majesty’s government’s chronic short-term policy making. This incoherent and ad hoc approach is stifling innovation and hampering progress. The consequences are evident in the UK’s crumbling infrastructure and stagnant economy.

The report may ostensibly be about science and technology, but there are lessons here for all businesses. Developing a long-term strategy, being comfortable taking calculated risks and investing where needed are key to growth. As the Council for Geostrategy suggests, government has a role to play here and reports like this will hopefully help shape political sentiment. But businesses also need to step up.

You can read the full report here.

Business Question

Guess the year

  • Flight-search company Skyscanner was acquired by Chinese online travel giant Ctrip for £1.4bn
  • Martin Shkreli, Panama Papers and Pokemon Go were in the news
  • BHS filed for administration
  • SoftBank bought British darling Arm

The answer can be found at the bottom of the page.

Business in brief

Everything you need to know

1. British factory output expanded at its fastest pace in nearly two years, although the rate of growth was slightly slower than initially estimated. This is according to the closely watched S&P Global and Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply purchasing managers’ index. Read more here.

2. A slowing inflation rate isn’t leading to people spending more money, according to a new survey from Barclays. Consumer card spending grew just 1 per cent year on year in May, the smallest rise since February 2021. It also found that price hikes on some household bills – including council tax and broadband – have started to impact consumer confidence. Read more here.

3. Challenger bank Monzo is in the black for the first time, with a pre-tax profit of £15.4m in its last financial year. Talking to City AM, its chief executive TS Anil spoke of the bank’s plans for the future and the importance of being a “learning company”. You can read more here.

4. A trial of a skin cancer vaccine by Moderna cut the risk of dying from melanoma by 49 per cent. Professor Charles Swanton, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, told The Times: “It’s extremely promising and I fully expect and hope that we’ll see data like this in solid tumours like colorectal cancer and lung cancer. It’s terribly exciting.” Read more here

5. For the first time, we have details of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s personal investment portfolio. He is one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific investors, with holdings in more than 400 companies including Reddit, Retro and Airbnb. You can read the full story here.

Business Quotes

Inspiration from leaders

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

– Helen Keller

Business Thinker

Ideas on the future of business and leadership

1. Britain has big infrastructure plans. But where are the workers?

2. DEI backlash: Stay up-to-date on the latest legal and corporate challenges

3. You’re probably stressed. Here’s why you must avoid oversharing

And finally…

The devastating news of Rob Burrow’s passing came on Sunday afternoon. Tributes have been pouring in for a Rugby League star who fought the good fight since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019. 

Burrow and his former teammate Kevin Sinfield raised more than £15m for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. The BBC released a special documentary, There’s Only One Rob Burrow, which was broadcast last night.

One of the more poignant moments from the documentary was released as a short clip hours after his passing. In the video, Burrow says:

I hope you find inspiration from the whole story. My final message to you is: whatever your personal battle, be brave and face it. Every single day is precious. Don’t waste a moment.

In a world full of adversity, we must still dare to dream.

You can watch that last beautiful message here.

The answer to today’s Business Question is 2016.

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