Representing the interests of members and the business community to government forms part of the IoD’s Royal Charter. But how does that work in reality? The IoD policy team explains
There is a big argument,” the chancellor, George Osborne, told last year’s IoD Annual Convention, “about whether we are a country that is for business, for enterprise [and] for the free market.”
At the IoD, where championing such ideals runs through our organisation like letters through a stick of rock, we like to think that’s the case. But in recent years, we have seen those principles tested and questioned.
When the economy turns bad, it’s natural to point the finger of blame. Business in general, not just the banks, unfairly acquired a bad name during the fallout from the financial crash. But the private sector hasn’t always helped itself.
Misselling scandals such as PPI, exchange-rate rigging by investment banks, unjustified pay for FTSE executives, and the recent spectacular deception by Volkswagen do not help those of us trying to build a case for free and open markets.
“The only way we are going to win this argument for an enterprising, [pro-] business, low-tax economy that delivers prosperity for people and generations to come,” Osborne told members, is if business itself raises its “head above the parapet” and fights to let politicians and the public know that it is entrepreneurialism, innovation and creativity that together create wealth for the economy and society.
The IoD’s 15-strong policy team exists to make that case to politicians, journalists, think tanks, campaigners and the general public, and to lobby government on the issues which matter to IoD members. Lobbying is often depicted as a dark art – men doing deals in shady corners of the Palace of Westminster.
A whisper here, a nudge there – all very House of Cards. Let’s leave that perception to the screenwriters. In reality, it’s a lot less glamorous than that, but vitally important nonetheless.
Policymakers in government and Whitehall are often attacked for spending too much time in the Westminster bubble.
That’s why politicians need to hear about the real experiences of IoD members running firms large and small. We do not plead for special interests, but instead make the case for competitive markets that work for consumers, and enable innovative new firms to gain a toehold.
Open for business
This mission is embodied in our Royal Charter, and lies at the heart of what the IoD offers its members. But we can’t do it without you. By being part of our survey panel, Policy Voice, you can directly influence the policy positions we take.
We also hold regular policy breakfasts so you can meet the director general, and the policy team, to discuss in person the issues affecting your business, whether that’s access to finance, skills, regulation, tax, transport or communication infrastructure – or anything else. It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is, where you’re based, or what you do; every opinion carries the same weight.
In the past few weeks, we’ve refuted astonishing claims by Theresa May, the home secretary, on immigration, pointing out that half of all IoD members employ somebody from overseas to fill the skills gap and boost international connections.
As part of his Northern Powerhouse drive, Osborne will give councils the power to set business rates, after we told him that two-thirds of our members wanted them decided at a local level.
With half of all IoD members undecided as to how they will vote in the referendum on EU membership, we travelled around Europe to drum up support for reform to make the bloc more competitive and less intrusive for small firms.
It’s not just politicians who we influence. The IoD is a representative for the business community, so we know that public trust is defined more than anything by the behaviour of those household names at the top – the international players representing Britain on the world stage, employing millions of people here and overseas, and creating products and services we use every day.
Our study of corporate governance in the FTSE 100 kick-started a lively debate about what makes a good company board, and how we can ensure that listed businesses create value for shareholders, the wider economy and society.
It is why we’ve spoken out about excessive, unjustified executive pay, and why we campaign to end the scandal of late payments, and drive alternative finance to entrepreneurs and high-growth companies.
The case for an economy which is open to the world, regulations that protect consumers but don’t stifle business, and for directors, executives and businesses that uphold the highest standards of professional integrity needs to be made. With the EU referendum on the horizon and at a time when entrepreneurs are hot political property, now is a great moment to do just that.
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow will be making a keynote speech at the IoD’s Annual Dinner on 25 November. To book tickets, go to iod.com/annualdinner
Watch Lord Lawson and Lord Mandelson debate Britain’s EU membership at the IoD Annual Convention
How to get involved with Policy Voice
Established in 2008, the Policy Voice community of more than 3,000 business leaders helps the IoD fulfil the terms of its Royal Charter by:
• Publicising the interests of IoD members to government by influencing public policy
• Representing the interests of the business community in all public fora – by generating substantial media coverage
• Fostering an environment favourable to entrepreneurial activity by taking a prominent role in thought leadership
We encourage members to sign up and have their say. If you are not a member of Policy Voice and would like to register, visit policyvoice.iod.com/director to take a brief profiling survey.