Chuka Umunna made a speech about ethnic diversity in business. Photo: Getty
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Chuka Umunna announces a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership

If Labour gets in, Lord Davies will lead a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership, as he did for gender diversity.

During a speech at the KPMG Asian Festival Dinner tonight, the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna announced that, if Labour makes it to government in 2015, the peer Mervyn Davies will lead a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership, as he did for gender diversity.

Here's the full text:

The British Dream: Making aspiration a reality

Can I thank KPMG for hosting us tonight and for inviting me to speak. I know that, in this room tonight, there are some amazing stories that could be told – of business success against the odds, of supportive families and communities, of hard graft, of grit and determination. It is great to be celebrating the success of Asian business and Asian businesspeople in Britain.

I myself draw on the inspiration of my own father and his story.  He arrived at Liverpool docks from Nigeria – as a young man with only the suitcase he was carrying.

He borrowed the train fare from a complete stranger to make it here to London where he was to lodge with friends. But his head was full of dreams and his heart full of ambition.

He worked all the hours, he trained, did his business qualifications at night school, and eventually built a successful import-export business, creating a comfortable life for his wife and children.

His story, the stories in this room – these are powerful examples. But they are more than stories of individual success. They are part of the folk memory that proves what is possible – examples that can drive our communities to future success.

We are living in a world of profound and rapid change, driven by technology and the reshaping of the global economy as power moves south and east to India, China, Africa and beyond.

To succeed as a country, we need to harness the opportunities this brings and keep alive for all our people what I call the “British Dream” - the idea that if you work hard, play by the rules and do the right thing, you can make it. 

Because when we waste talent and ideas, we deny opportunity. But we also damage ourselves. We are - quite literally – poorer for it as a nation.

Of course it takes personal ambition, fortitude and perseverance to succeed. But when I look around my communities in Streatham, Brixton and Clapham, it is not a lack of these personal qualities I see.

The problem is that the starting line is not drawn straight, the hurdles are not all the same height, the road for some is rough and steep shaped by the circumstances into which they were born, not their underlying potential.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘aspiration’. But you know as well as I do that such talk can be cheap. For the talk to mean anything, it needs to have some grit: it needs to challenge the power of those who are standing in the way of aspiration. 

It has to make a difference to the barriers that are holding people back. Otherwise it’s just talk. To stand aside is to stand on the side of those who are already winning. If we want to see more high-growth companies like those in this room, then we have to open up closed circles of power which prevent them from succeeding.

Take finance. When the banks won’t lend to small businesses - that is a barrier to aspiration.

That is why we have promised to end the cosy cartel where all banks give you the same answer and tell you: “the computer says no”. Here I make no apology for standing on the side of aspiration.

We need more competition in banking. We need more competition to banking.

We need more – and more diverse – sources of patient, counter-cyclical finance.

This is behind our plans for a proper British Investment Bank and a network of regional banks.

These are problems that predate the financial crisis – structural problems that need structural solutions. 

Politicians have a tendency to disagree too vehemently and agree too reluctantly, so I want to say tonight that I am pleased this government followed on from the work of the previous Labour government and recognised the significant opportunity the expansion of the UK’s Islamic finance market represents to UK firms.

Another barrier to aspiration is blue tape – the administrative burdens large firms place on their supply chains. When a big firm doesn’t pay a supplier on time, that’s not fair. It makes the business environment that bit harder. It is a barrier to aspiration.

This is not about big firms versus small – our success is mutually dependent and the relationship between the two is symbiotic.

But in business, as in life, we all succeed when we all succeed – to do this means fair rules, fair markets and fair play.

That’s why we’re pushing through a change to the law which would ensure that any business paid late would automatically be paid interest.

This shifts the burden away from the supplier and removes the incentive for the customer to pay late.

Bigger firms would also have to report and publish quarterly, like a VAT return, when they’ve paid late which will bring greater transparency and pressure to bear.

It’s not just about money. It’s about skills too. Real support for aspiration means ensuring every young person has a pathway to success, whatever route they choose.

The last Labour Government focused on getting 50 per cent of young people into university.

This transformed opportunities for young people in my constituency, where the numbers going into higher education increased by 81 per cent. 

Now the priority for the next Labour Government will be to do the same for vocational education.

It will be to create a clear route – from gold standard vocational education in schools and colleges to apprenticeships and new Technical Degrees. 

We must end the snobbery that says that the vocational and technical is not as important as the academic. 

For this, we must change the situation in which fewer than one in ten employers offer apprenticeships.

It must become the new normal. So the goal – as Ed Miliband set out – is that by 2025 there will be as many young people doing high-quality apprenticeships as go to university.

This is how we help people to meet their aspirations and dreams.

By building an economy of well-paid jobs, and training people so that they can seize the opportunities.

A high-wage, high-skill economy, where we win in global markets because of the quality of our goods and services. 

But to do this, we must remain open for business.

And that means being outward looking to the world.

Engaged in Europe, working to make it more growth focused, not heading to the exit door – which would be disastrous. Europe is our largest market, but it is also the gateway to emerging market economies, where demand is set to explode.

We have a four-decade long trade deficit we need to reverse. I am clear we are best placed to do this being part of the EU. 

Trading also means making more of our diaspora communities – think about the amazing links here in this room to growing Asian markets.

As a nation, I am clear our diversity is a huge source of strength that we should do more to develop, support and celebrate in the current political climate.

But it is a shame that under this government, the obstinacy of the Home Office on visas has done huge damage to our growing businesses – and to our seventh largest export industry: our world class universities.

When we give the impression we are closed for business, we close our minds to a world of possibility.

Finally, realising aspiration means boardrooms in Britain that look like Britain.

We cannot carry on with the situation where half of all FTSE 100 companies do not have a single non-white director and just one in 15 management positions is filled by people of colour.

This is not just a problem for large corporations, it is a problem for British business as a whole.

When they tell me it’s a problem of the talent pipeline, I’ll tell them about the people in this room.

It’s a fixable problem, and it is a problem we will fix. 

That’s why I’m pleased to announce tonight that if we win in May next year, Lord Mervyn Davies has agreed to lead a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership – to do the same for ethnic diversity as he did for gender diversity because we need the same scale of change.   

There’s so much to celebrate here in this room tonight, and we do.

But I also feel the sense that, for all the success, there is so much more that needs to be done and which we could all do.

So I want to conclude with an ask: many business people tell me of their dismay at the lack of understanding amongst young people of what it is you do, what it is like to run a business, to be an engineer. 

So my ask to all of you is, to the extent you are not already, get into our schools and tell your story. 

That is one way you can make a difference and we are looking at how to strengthen the links between all our schools and our businesses, with that purpose in mind. 

It is only, after all, by working together that we can realise opportunity for everyone.

Thank you.

Getty.
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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.