London Visit: What We Did and What We Learnt

London Visit report - Mandelson

This week, James Pearson – Business and Trade Executive at the British Chamber gives us a report of the goings on at this year’s London Visit at the start of the month. The Visit included keynote speeches from Lord Mandelson and Ken Clarke MP!

On 9 and 10 November, the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium brought a delegation of members over to the UK for our first annual London Visit. With the outstanding support of our official Knowledge Partner, FleishmanHillard UK, we had a full two-day programme lined up with promising topics and speakers, and it did not disappoint.

Members were warmly welcomed by Jim Donaldson, Senior Partner & Managing Director of FleishmanHillard UK. Our first session was with the Rt Hon Lord Peter Mandelson who presented an overview of the future of Europe. He covered his top three areas of concern for Europe and the activities of the newly formed Britain Stronger in Europe. Mandelson looked at the pitfalls the current government could fall into during the campaign and also the impact that media have had and will have in the future.

We were hosted for lunch in the Houses of Parliament by the often candid Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP, who engaged in a frank discussion about the internal politics facing the Conservative Party as we begin the long run up to the UK Referendum. The need for rational arguments versus emotional messaging to reach voters came across from the delegates and the speaker in order to shape the debate with the general public. After lunch, we had a tour of the House of Lords and subsequent introduction to the life of a parliamentarian, hosted by Mark Pawsey MP.

Our pre-dinner panel debate, chaired by Sir John Grant, involved voices from both sides of the referendum aisle: Alex Story (Business for Britain) and David Henderson (Business for New Europe) with their top three arguments for their own case. Not a topic to finish in an hour, this spilled into the dinner where journalist and guest speaker Julia Hartley-Brewer kept the conversation alive with personal and often highly entertaining observations about the UK debate and some of the key political figures involved.

The visit’s second day, hosted by FleishmanHillard at their brand new Bankside offices, started with a broader overview of the political landscape in the UK, with James Frayne from Policy Exchange. The referendum issue still a natural part of this conversation, including a discussion on the ideal versus realistic timing of holding the referendum, the session also covered power devolution to UK cities and regional autonomy, public finances, and digital business trends. Frayne’s remarks neatly bridged the Westminster-focused first day with the second day’s more tech-focused programme.

We then heard from Guy Levin (Coalition for a Digital Economy) and David Blake (Tech.London), who spoke about digital economy trends. This included a discussion on whether companies built for success in the 20th century would still be able to make it in the 21st century, and an analysis of the increasingly harder-fought battle for customer interface. The session further touched on the current and desired support for tech start-ups from Westminster, including whether tax breaks actually work as an incentive for fostering successful entrepreneurs. Finally, Guy and David discussed what cities need to do to emulate London’s success as a tech start-up hub and the need for sector specialization at a city level.

After lunch, we went into a discussion on longer and better living with Diarmaid Crean from Public Health England and Daniel Ryan from Swiss Re. From the perspective of a public health organisation and an insurance company, respectively, they gave us fascinating insights into the digital tools being developed and adopted to incentivise consumer behaviour towards healthier living. They discussed the importance of gamification, quality control issues with third-party mobile apps, and to what extent consumer data protection versus full data accessibility for organisations works in favour of the consumer.

Our final session was on future cities. Ben Lucas from the City Growth Commission presented interesting cases of UK cities who have become smarter in different way, and how cities who would previously have considered themselves fierce rivals have come together to cooperate over urban development initiatives. Ian Mihajlovic from Thriev gave us a tech start-up perspective from a business aiming to change city mobility through the UK’s first all-electric chauffeured service, while Joe Dignan from the Future Cities Catapult introduced us to the work of this government-supported centre aiming to develop smarter cities. The discussion focused on city case studies and what incentives drive cities to become smarter, as well as more macro-level structural issues to be addressed, e.g. skills gaps and labour market economics. The session closed on the note that cities are now more dominant than ever and that this trend will only continue in the years to come.

We then closed the London Visit programme with a reception on FleishmanHillard’s rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the London skyline.

From the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, we would like to thank all the speakers for their stimulating and though-provoking contributions, and the delegates for their highly engaged participation in the discussions. Last but certainly not least, we want to thank FleishmanHillard UK for their great hospitality and support in pulling an excellent London Visit programme together.

Stay tuned for updates on our 2016 visit plans!

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