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We owe it to the next generation to show leadership

Claire Bennison
Brexit will remain his most immediate priority as Chancellor.

The morning after I attended the Mansion House Banquet, my young daughter asked me what the meeting was about, and what did I think?

I explained it was about the Lord Mayor of London hosting an annual dinner for bankers and merchants, and when lots of speeches are made, and where the Chancellor can make new announcements and reinforce his policies.

As to what did I think? Well, I didn’t have an immediate answer; I said it was interesting, it was insightful, but that I needed a little more time to think about it.

So her question has made me reflect further on what the Chancellor said, although much of it was widely trailed before the event. As a result, it wasn’t a surprise to hear that the NHS will be the government’s number 1 priority in the next Spending Review, and that taxpayers will have to pay what the Chancellor said was a “bit more” for the NHS’s future.

As reported in CityAM, Hammond also used his speech to talk about our future relationship with the EU, and explain how the UK will seize the opportunities and challenges ahead as we approach Brexit.

It was light on the Brexit detail, but he affirmed that Brexit will remain his most immediate priority as Chancellor. Indeed, there is a need to get what the Chancellor called “a good Brexit deal” – something of course that we all want to see. It was, however, heartening to hear that the Treasury is not the “the enemy of Brexit”. But more clarity is needed, especially as the news broke soon after the Mansion House speech that Airbus says it will quit the UK if there’s a no-deal Brexit.

The Chancellor spoke about innovation and skills, and the need to maintain the UK’s leading position as a centre of innovation and international financial services. He spoke about the need to shape our financial regulatory future, and his three major announcements around trade, technology and the green finance agenda struck what I saw as a positive chord in the room.

For an audience of bankers, it would be remiss of the Chancellor not to mention regulation. For accountants, good regulation matters, so it was interesting to hear that the FCA and the Bank of England are working together to see how firms deal with regulation and compliance. In the face of fast-paced technological developments, this is a must. Resilience was something of a buzzword – the need to be both competitive and seek stability during a time of change. Part of this resilience is the strengthening of the Bank of England’s financial framework – with a boost of capital to the tune of £1.2 billion.

Hammond also mentioned the creation of a new Green Finance Institute, based in London and co-funded by the City of London and government. Again, the Chancellor said this is an area in which the UK leads, and that with the creation of this Institute, it will continue to do so.

Continuing the tech theme, and with the resilience word appearing again, the Chancellor also spoke about the new National Cyber Security Centre, established to “strengthen the resilience of our critical business sectors”. In the face of growing cybercrime, the work of this unit is critical.

My lasting impression was about the Chancellor’s third statement – the creation of a new Financial Services Skills Taskforce.

Skills and talent matter a great deal to the success of UK plc; the need for the UK to attract the right talent, not just in accountancy, but in a wide range of professions. We need to train and nurture that talent to ensure what they do, they do well - which is one of the priorities selected by jurors in The Lord Mayor’s report on The Business of Trust.

ACCA is playing a role here, bringing real-world skills into our qualification to support employers and ensure they have people who can respond to change and innovation, with a strengthened focus on ethics and integrity in support of better business.

Hammond spoke about the need to ‘harness the brightest young minds of today to meet the needs of the financial sector of the future’ – and I could not agree more.

Finance is the bedrock of business, and it’s also the bedrock of Brexit. So we need to get the finance skills base absolutely right, and be open to talent from home and abroad.

I know ACCA will be playing its part and I look forward seeing this Task Force deliver for the long-term prosperity of the UK. The war for talent is very real.

The Chancellor ended his speech with a focus on connectivity. Again, at a time when we are talking about Brexit, connectivity is essential. What I see from ACCA members here in the UK and around the world is a super-connected profession, members seeking and benefiting from a global network, keen to make connections with each other and also for their businesses in which they work and the clients they advise.

So to go back to my daughter’s main question, what did I think of the Mansion House event? The Chancellor’s speech was upbeat – it has to be; we owe it to the next generation, to demonstrate leadership, grasp the challenges and opportunities ahead, and to be positive about the future.