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EU Referendum Brexit Budget

Forget about spending – what about making? Havas' Chris Hirst on the need to back British business


By Chris Hirst, European and UK group CEO

March 17, 2016 | 4 min read

For a while now I’ve believed that the UK needs a new agenda for business.

Chris Hirst

Chris Hirst

I’ve often thought that if our political leaders, across all parties were to clearly and unambiguously make the case for business as the sole driver of our security, health and prosperity then we would, as a country, find this new approach not only refreshing in its honesty, but very productive.

George Osborne yesterday warned that storm clouds are gathering over the global economy, which is why he has chosen “sound public finances to deliver security” amid the uncertainty.

While the news channels obsess over the new sugar tax and whether it’s really worth spending billions of GDP on extending school hours to 4.30pm, not once has the true generator of all this ‘play’ money been recognised.

We need to acknowledge British business and work out what we can do to help sustain and grow it.

For those, like myself, trying to make that money, there are some real and pressing concerns that have been skated over. Questions such as ‘What will happen to business rate relief?’ – a lifeline for so many. ‘How will we manage the impact of the living wage on our bottom lines?’ And ‘What will happen to our prospects, our clients and our services if Britain votes for a Brexit?'

Like many I watched the ‘In’ campaign film released on Tuesday marking the 100th day till the EU referendum. As an adman who works with some of the most creative and strategic minds in the business, I hung my head in shame. Not only because of its lack of energy or creativity, but also its total lack of informative messaging.

There seems to be this growing – dare I say it – arrogance amongst those that believe the UK will not vote to leave the EU. It’s evident in the lack of power, imagination and conviction that I saw play out on my computer screen. It's making UK business lose sleep.

Myself, and many of my counterparts, be it in advertising or in other industries, do not want to force our way into a political argument. But we also don't want politics to force its way into our businesses either.

While too many of our politicians are being led by the nose by UKIP and the anti-EU rhetoric of the right wing, it’s almost impossible to find a leader of any business, big or small, that believes a Brexit would be anything other than bad news.

A clear indication of the UK ad industry's point of view is the lack of pick up for the ‘Leave’ campaign's account. Put out to tender in February and with an ad spend predicted at £7m, it is a sizeable budget not to be sniffed at. It’s been over a month since Havas and other agencies rejected the opportunity to pitch for the business and the account is still reportedly out to tenure.

What we need – like the schoolchildren whose education is yet again being restructured – is stability and consistency to grow and mature. It’s clear that over recent years the current economic policies, trade deals and partnerships are working. Could they work better? Potentially… Could they be worse? Definitely.

This is not a left wing or a right wing argument; it’s an argument about common-sense, passion and drive. All business needs right now is for the UK government to focus on not trying to fix what ain’t broke, but instead on ensuring that what already exists is strengthened, recognised and supported.

We can't afford to count our chickens. We need to focus more of our attention on making the money that successive governments seem so quick to spend.

Chris Hirst is European and UK group CEO at Havas

EU Referendum Brexit Budget

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