The Singapore Choices: Why Political Engagement Is Critical

Reports recently suggested that the Prime Minister has plans to make the UK the ‘Singapore of Europe’. The ‘regulatory freedoms’ delivered by leaving the European Union can be used to help our economy. But this approach needs political engagement by those who agree, and those that disagree.

Being Singapore

The article in City AM provided a useful overview of the PM’s position and the messages that would be delivered at the first meeting of the ‘Build Back Better Council’. The idea itself has surfaced before not least during the Brexit debate and subsequent withdrawal negotiations. Being the ‘Singapore of Europe’ or ‘Singapore on Thames’ (which doesn’t really fit with levelling-up), attracted some but revolted others. Aside from the obvious differences in the types and styles of government, the very idea of a low tax, low regulatory system is not for everyone.

This, for the first time, starts to show what Johnson’s idea of Global Britain really means. But the approach is not without challenges for Government. As with other recent Government announcements, the vision is grand but the details are so far lacking. One person’s red tape is another’s fundamental protection. Many fear that that worker’s rights and environmental protections are at risk but the Government has sought to offer reassurance.

The new BEIS Secretary of State, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, has said that some EU labour laws may be scrapped but that there will no ‘bonfire of rights’. This may, or may not, coincide with the conclusion of the review being undertaken by John Penrose MP on making the UK’s competition regime which is expected to report soon.

But whether we are talking about fundamental changes or just lessening the bureaucracy involved, the Government needs ideas about what it should do and, on the flip side, those that want to defend policies need to make the case as well. Businesses are going to have to come up with ideas for ‘cuts’ but other organisations may have to mount robust defences.

Dividing lines?

There is also the real prospect that changes that businesses could seek may not sit comfortably with the people they employ or the communities they operate within. That is, of course, a vast oversimplification and takes no account of issues related to, for instance, reputation. Even if the Government were to lower standards, organisations could well operate at higher levels because it is what their customers want and it helps to boost their reputations.

Tough political choices will confront the PM. Ones that could bring traditional supporters into conflict with hard won support across the Red Wall. These types of policy discussions run the risk of introducing dividing lines.

Engagement is critical

In terms of public affairs and political engagement what does this all mean?

It is critical that different types of business get their views across on this issue. There is a danger, despite what the Government may say, that they listen to big business at the expense of others. That will definitely be the case if they don’t hear from businesses of all types, not just through their representatives bodies. Government always likes to hear from businesses directly.

We have all heard about reducing red tape before but this time, because we have left the EU, the space for Government to be more radical is there. The risks and the rewards are potentially greater. There is, therefore, an opportunity for engagement.

Deliverable ideas, benefiting Global Britain, should be at the top of the agenda. Coalitions of interest around such changes could well need to be built and there is no guaranteeing that Government will be at all joined-up when it comes to considering any of the issues involved.

For those more wary of such changes, they too need to engage but may also need to think about campaigning as well.

So, transformation into being more like Singapore is entirely possible but without engagement Government could lack the ideas to deliver success.

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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