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.

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We still have time to change our minds on Brexit

The British people will soon find they have been misled. 

On the radio on 29 March 2017, another "independence day" for rejoicing Brexiteers, former SNP leader Alex Salmond and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage battled hard over the ramifications of Brexit. Here are two people who could be responsible for the break-up of the United Kingdom. Farage said it was a day we were getting our country back.

Yet let alone getting our country back, we could be losing our country. And what is so frustrating is that not only have we always had our country by being part of the European Union, but we have had the best of both worlds.

It is Philip Hammond who said: “We cannot cherry pick, we cannot have our cake and eat it too”. The irony is that we have had our cake and eaten it, too.

We are not in Schengen, we are not in the euro and we make the laws that affect our daily lives in Westminster – not in Europe – be it our taxes, be it our planning laws, be it business rates, be it tax credits, be it benefits or welfare, be it healthcare. We measure our roads in miles because we choose to and we pour our beer in pints because we choose to. We have not been part of any move towards further integration and an EU super-state, let alone the EU army.

Since the formation of the EU, Britain has had the highest cumulative GDP growth of any country in the EU – 62 per cent, compared with Germany at 35 per cent. We have done well out of being part of the EU. What we have embarked on in the form of Brexit is utter folly.

The triggering of Article 50 now is a self-imposed deadline by the Prime Minister for purely political reasons. She wants to fix the two-year process to end by March 2019 well in time to go into the election in 2020, with the negotiations completed.

There is nothing more or less to this timing. People need to wake up to this. Why else would she trigger Article 50 before the French and German elections, when we know Europe’s attention will be elsewhere?

We are going to waste six months of those two years, all because Prime Minister Theresa May hopes the negotiations are complete before her term comes to an end. I can guarantee that the British people will soon become aware of this plot. The Emperor has no clothes.

Reading through the letter that has been delivered to the EU and listening to the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament today amounted to reading and listening to pure platitudes and, quite frankly, hot air. It recalls the meaningless phrase, "Brexit means Brexit".

What the letter and the statement very clearly outlined is how complex the negotiations are going to be over the next two years. In fact, they admit that it is unlikely that they are going to be able to conclude negotiations within the two-year period set aside.

That is not the only way in which the British people have been misled. The Conservative party manifesto clearly stated that staying in the single market was a priority. Now the Prime Minister has very clearly stated in her Lancaster House speech, and in Parliament on 29 March that we are not going to be staying in the single market.

Had the British people been told this by the Leave campaign, I can guarantee many people would not have voted to leave.

Had British businesses been consulted, British businesses unanimously – small, medium and large – would have said they appreciate and benefit from the single market, the free movement of goods and services, the movement of people, the three million people from the EU that work in the UK, who we need. We have an unemployment rate of under 5 per cent – what would we do without these 3m people?

Furthermore, this country is one of the leaders in the world in financial services, which benefits from being able to operate freely in the European Union and our businesses benefit from that as a result. We benefit from exporting, tariff-free, to every EU country. That is now in jeopardy as well.

The Prime Minister’s letter to the EU talks with bravado about our demands for a fair negotiation, when we in Britain are in the very weakest position to negotiate. We are just one country up against 27 countries, the European Commission and the European Council and the European Parliament. India, the US and the rest of the world do not want us to leave the European Union.

The Prime Minister’s letter of notice already talks of transitional deals beyond the two years. No country, no business and no economy likes uncertainty for such a prolonged period. This letter not just prolongs but accentuates the uncertainty that the UK is going to face in the coming years.

Britain is one of the three largest recipients of inward investment in the world and our economy depends on inward investment. Since the referendum, the pound has fallen 20 per cent. That is a clear signal from the world, saying, "We do not like this uncertainty and we do not like Brexit."

Though the Prime Minister said there is it no turning back, if we come to our senses we will not leave the EU. Article 50 is revocable. At any time from today we can decide we want to stay on.

That is for the benefit of the British economy, for keeping the United Kingdom "United", and for Europe as a whole – let alone the global economy.

Lord Bilimoria is the founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and the founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council.