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Dear Members and Friends,

Since the new PM arrived there has been, whatever one’s political affiliations, a burst of energy from multiple departments on many of the non-Brexit challenges that are in dire, overdue need of a sense of purpose and direction. But the ‘B’ word sits there like a large rock in the road, frustrating widely evident private and public sector desire to get on with things, engage collaboratively, at pace and with energy. Being businesspeople we will do what we can to find a way over it, round it, under it etc. – whilst, alongside us, much of the civil service is playing a blinder, readying for various eventualities. Fingers crossed, there may now be signs of a potential breakthrough. More on that later.

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This week, D Group members enjoyed highly informative briefings with expert speakers and knowledgeable audiences full of ideas to address key opportunities and challenges in Infrastructure. Pretty well every segment of the infrastructure market across energy, telecoms and all forms of transport convened over two days to hear from and share ideas with Stephen Dance, Director of Infrastructure Delivery at the Infrastructure Projects Authority and Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport. Well-planned infrastructure is key both to addressing many of the societal and exclusion issues that have run through UK political debate in recent years and to fully releasing UK trade and investment potential. Both speakers and events brimmed with positivity and ideas; about the opportunities for regional infrastructure, the drive towards greater devolution in England, about innovative financing, about the transformative effects of digital and on need for a more collaborative, planned approach to designing and procuring major infrastructure. The ideas are there in abundance, as are the capabilities. Team UK just needs to be allowed to get off the bench and onto the field. 

So to the (cautious optimism here…) better news.

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The regular CEO Brexit breakfast series seeks, as far as possible, to match the speaker to the topical. Not easy in a very fast-moving environment. Luck was on our side this week with our Thursday morning guest being Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Chief Whip of the DUP at Westminster and a key figure in Northern Irish politics. He was on the BBC’s Question Time that evening. It appears that something may be moving on the issue of the Irish border. The Chatham House Rule applies to our events but I’d hazard a guess that pragmatism can and will find a compromise (and I’d discount the idea of a bridge from Scotland to Ireland being part of it, even if our membership could build it on time and to budget).

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Two events from BEI demonstrated the breadth of challenges members face in identifying and shaping opportunities internationally. The first focussed on an issue of increasing concern for all companies working in infrastructure; namely fostering greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce. This lively event was led by contributions from Kristina Scheibler-Frood, Principal Structural Engineer at AECOM, Richard Chapman-Harris, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at Mott MacDonald, and Lila Thompson, Chief Executive of British Water, but included valuable interventions from many other attendees and generated important ideas for specific follow up. This is a growing area of focus for our members and we will be following up over coming months.

The second event was on leveraging impact investing to scale up economic growth, led by Serina Ng, DIT Head of Responsible and Inclusive Business, Andrew Tillery, Director of Asset Management and Chief Executive of the Palladium Impact Fund, and Jesse Baver, Associate Partner at Dalberg. The event highlighted how this market worth an estimated $502bn has the potential to provide additional capital to address the funding gap to deliver the SDGs and thereby addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges in sectors such as agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure development, healthcare, and much more. It identified some key markets and strategies for members to consider in accessing this important source of funding and offered a reminder of the growing synergies recognised between development and private finance in delivering transformative infrastructure growth globally.

It seems to increasingly be the norm in these newsletters to sign off mentioning the weather or sport. The Rugby World Cup approaches (including an all-Ireland team). Of course, as an entirely neutral and non-aligned organisation we won’t be favouring any of the home nations. Best of luck to all 🍀

Best wishes,

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Peter O'Kane - Executive Chairman, Strategy International


Event Highlights:

Wednesday 18th September 2019 – BEI
Round Table with HM Ambassador to Lebanon
Chris Rampling MBE, HM Ambassador to Lebanon

Wednesday 18th September 2019 – The D Group 
Careers of the Future
Claudia Harris, Chief Executive, The Careers & Enterprise Company

Thursday 19th September 2019 – The D Group
Data and Trust
Dr Jeni Tennison OBE, Chief Executive, The Open Data Institute 
Alistair Clark, EBRD