Marketing Brexit EU Referendum

Amber Rudd's foreign workers plan will hurt marketing – the UK should be home to the world's best talent


By Chris Hirst | European and UK group CEO

October 6, 2016 | 3 min read

Apparently London's open for business. Unfortunately the new home secretary didn't get the memo.

Chris Hirst

Mayor Sadiq Khan asked the capital's creative businesses for their help in launching his London is Open campaign after this summer's Brexit vote, and the industry responded. From top to bottom, we overwhelmingly voted Remain, believing that we must protect our right to acquire talent wherever we can find it.

But now home secretary Amber Rudd has drawn new battle lines. The latest minister to put business in her sights, she has vowed to 'name and shame' those of us she believes hire too many foreign workers and she says it's evidence that government is listening to voters.

It’s vital that the UK, and London specifically, retains its status as a talent magnet. In our business, as in other sectors, we can’t compete effectively unless we reflect all our business needs - we need people with direct experience of global markets, of business in China, South America and more.

Companies here face a battle with the powerhouse of Shanghai, the creativity of Sao Paolo, and the tech and content forces that are based in New York and West Coast USA. We’re operating in a global village now and competition is strong.

Yet the danger is we are erecting barriers that will restrict our ability to access the best talent. It's not just a policy problem, it's a branding problem: the message we’re sending out as a country, and as a city, is we're closed. Closed minds and closed borders.

In discussing London, let’s focus on its positives instead.

Such as the strength of our unique geography – we’re well-located to communicate with Asia and America in the same day.

Or the strength of our skillsets – we’re a creative, trading nation with a can-do attitude.

Perhaps the strength of our many languages and cultures – our proximity to European and other world markets means London's community has a linguistic diversity and worldview that is second to none.

As our world becomes truly global, businesses need, in a practical sense, a range of people with all of those strengths. And the debate needs to be framed intelligently, in a way that recognises a thriving London and its diversity of talent, rather than making threats to pull up the drawbridge and close ourselves off.

The engine for a modern economy is talent. We should make London the place of choice for the world's brightest and best – and if we succeed it will enrich (literally) us all. Perhaps the madness will pass. I just hope Amber Rudd will heed the warning rather than play to the gallery.

Chris Hirst is chief executive for UK and Europe for Havas

Marketing Brexit EU Referendum

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