It is fair to say that the 2017 Autumn Budget has received a mixed reception. Delivered against a background of Brexit negotiations allied to a technological revolution which in the Chancellor’s words will “change the way we work and live and transform our living standards for generations to come” the Budget was always going to be a difficult one to call. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the divergent comments from business leaders.
Whilst the CBI led with “A good Budget for a country in tough times” and the FSB headlined with “Business-friendly Budget in challenging times”, the IoD response was more tepid with the Director General commenting “Chancellor dips toe in water, but fails to make a splash for business.” Despite the differences in tone, all commentaries agreed with the Chancellor’s view that with a degree of uncertainty ahead these are challenging times for business.
So what is the answer? In his Budget summary the Chancellor said that in order to build a Britain fit for the future it was time to “build on the strengths of the British economy. To embrace change, not hide from it. To seize the opportunities ahead of us.”
The Chancellor’s words set down a challenge which business leaders should relish. It is easy to lead in quiet times, but when going gets tough so do the potential rewards. This then is a time for leadership, for company directors to step up and exercise their duties in promoting the success of the company and in exercising reasonable care, skill and diligence. It is a time for risk awareness and planning, for anticipation and for seizing opportunities.
It’s also a time for realism, for ensuring that annual reports contain balanced commentaries which will provide investors with a true and fair viewpoint of the company’s current strength and likely future prospects. And perhaps it is also a good time to remind ourselves that a director’s duty of care requires them to have regard to the interests not just of investors but also employees, customers, suppliers and the wider environment.
These may be uncertain times and there may be challenges ahead. But these are also the times which the principles of strong corporate governance and good leadership were made for. As the CBI Director General Carolyn Fairburn said “The challenge now is to turn words into action. For Government and business, this starts next week with the Industrial Strategy.”