Dear Members and Friends ,
Whilst the much-trailed cabinet reshuffle was being rolled out (of which more later) The D Group was privileged to hear Graeme Purdy, CEO of battery and advanced materials company, Ilika update us on key evolving trends around battery technology, its importance to a myriad of key industry sectors and applications, and the UK’s current positioning. This event’s timely juxtaposition to the comings and goings in and out of Number 10 was a reminder that it is private sector expertise in new technologies that will be the key determinant of Britain’s economic prospects rather than who is, or is not, a government minister this month or this year.
Having said that, HMG support for emerging tech and a consistent and supportive UK government policy backdrop to private sector effort and innovation is important, particularly in the early stage. So it was unsettling to learn that moving Greg Clark had been on the agenda, someone who has impressed across The D Group with his thoughtful, patient and genuinely consultative application to the very difficult challenge of developing an industrial strategy. In the same vein a post- Brexit education system capable of generating home-grown skills is a major priority for business. So, whilst we all wish Damian Hinds well , who looks well qualified and supported and with whom we look forward to engaging, losing Justine Greening will have concerned many. She has impressed the membership with her clarity and patient determination in tackling the considerable challenges in all her posts not to mention adding a certain amount of diversity to the Cabinet.
The reshuffle has had a degree impact on the government related part of BEI and D’s briefing programmes and we will be working with the offices of new ministers to welcome them to Grafton St. We look forward, though, to welcoming one area of relative stability, the civil service, in the form of the BEIS Perm Sec, Alex Chisholm, on 28th February.
....and no seismic change at the Department for International Trade, meaning that BEI was yesterday still able to welcome Baroness Rona Fairhead, the Trade Minister. The meeting was to explore and discuss, with a range of BEI’s leading infrastructure members, HMG’s support for this hugely internationally capable UK sector. BEI CEO, Tracey Smith, who is on the board of HMG’s international infra initiative, IE:UK (Infrastructure Exports: UK) chaired the event. It would be Panglossian to not reflect that business has had some issues about DiT but this visit and other recent interactions gave the distinct the feeling of a department increasingly attracting considerable talent and getting the job done.
Yesterday evening also saw the launch of D Contemporary’s latest exhibition. Continuing the theme of aligning more of its exhibitions with members’ interests, this was a stunning series of aviation photographs by Richard Deakin, sponsored by Lockheed Martin and in this 100th anniversary of the RAF, in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund and Aerobility. We were delighted to welcome the Deputy Chief of the Airstaff, two previous Chiefs and defence and related sector CEOs and senior management. It was an excellent opportunity, not least as ‘Darkest Hour’ is released, to reflect on the achievements of the best airforce in the World. The rest of this year will see a fair amount of defence - related events at The D Group and doubtless some pretty brusque politics around budgets and capabilities. (I refer you to Tobias Ellwood’s article in last Weekend’s Telegraph for a robust view from a relevant Minister.
Peter O'Kane - Chairman, Strategy International