Features

UK plc: some HR policies to make Britain great again

Siân Harrington , 06 Feb 2012

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If the UK were a company, what should its people policy be? Here are some strategic HR approaches to help CEO David Cameron and his board identify UK plc’s core competencies and kick-start growth

It's the people, stupid.

On Monday morning in the boardroom of UK plc, finance director George Osborne pores over the disappointing weekend figures (exports down, lower margins, cashflow looking dodgy as costs rise and revenue drops - there'll need to be more redundancies), a fractious Vince Cable, aka UK plc HR director, is berating CEO David Cameron. "It is all very well cutting costs, but where's the growth coming from? Where's the wealth creation? We can't just hope for business as usual. We need to define our core competencies and outline a vision going forward. And we need to communicate it clearly to our employees."

No wonder Cable is exasperated. UK plc is teetering on the brink of decline once more, rival companies in emerging markets are stealing both its customers and best employees and now the shareholders are demanding answers (see box below, Protagonists). The company is floundering; it is no longer clear what its unique value proposition is and the competition is getting stronger. Employees keep harking back to the 'good old days', when they knew what the organisation stood for and what its business was. How can it get back to the greatness it once had? What does greatness look like in the 21st century? How can UK plc not only survive, but thrive? Time for a business transformation.

Like many organisations, the first thing UK plc tackled when facing a crisis was costs. It had been borrowing more than it could sustain and was not generating enough revenue to cover its costs. Cuts were required. But, as Neil Roden, partner in the HR consulting practice of professional services firm PwC, says: "You can't shrink yourself to greatness. It is not sufficient just to cut. UK plc needs to generate more revenue. If it does that, it will not have to cut as much as it is - or, it could be more specific about the areas in which it cuts costs."

Late last year, the Government conceded that austerity measures were not enough to keep the UK economy from flatlining. Osborne's autumn statement, much of which was leaked in advance, focused on growth. Measures included: a £5 billion investment in infrastructure, including the go-ahead for 35 road and rail projects and the aim to unlock a further £20 billion investment from pension funds; a £1 billion business finance partnership to raise money for medium-sized firms; a scheme to help people into mortgages and one to kick-start construction; support for science; and a £1 billion youth contract, to subsidise work placements for 410,000 young people.

However, against a backdrop of a revision down to 1.7% for 2011 forecast growth - and down to 2.5% for 2012 - plus an extra £111 billion in borrowing forecast over five years, this announcement did little to encourage a sense of optimism in UK plc. The Huffington Post UK went as far as to write: "Some economists have said the UK's economy is structurally unsound, with the majority of the past decade's growth driven by unsustainable government spending and dangerously cheap consumer credit."

It hardly sounds like an organisation in which one would choose to work, let alone invest. But here's the rub: despite the doom and gloom, UK plc has many things in its favour.

"Britain is still a great nation, politically important and influential in the world, one of the top six countries economically, with its people educated and urbane. It is a place people still want to come to," says David Cleeton-Watkins, lead consultant, Roffey Park Institute.

"There are many strengths that UK plc has," agrees Nalin Miglani, chief HR and communication officer at Tata Global Beverages.

"It has a diversity that is not available in other countries, especially in London; a location that enables it to act as a centrepiece in the world and a strong, well-entrenched and progressive social infrastructure."

In fact, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who has moved to the UK, told London's Evening Standard last month he is excited about the exploding start-up scene around Old Street's 'Silicon Roundabout', a creative hub where he says he has seen "a lot of energy and people doing interesting things". He said London's "geographic proximity" and vast cultural offerings beat the "sprawling and empty" Silicon Valley in the US, home to Facebook and where Google and PayPal started. "I would say nobody really wants to live in Palo Alto. There is nothing in terms of cultural amenities that would be of interest to creative, highly intellectual people," Wales said.

Given this, it seems clear UK plc is under-leveraging its strengths: it has a communication problem. Its HR director needs to work with the CEO to help him better communicate existing benefits to the employees (ie the population) and shareholders (ie the party faithful and investors), in order to instil a sense of belief and purpose. Otherwise, the decline of UK plc will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

People like to work and invest in successful organisations. "A bit more pride in what we do might help," agrees one leader, Gerard Nieuwenhuys, group managing director of prestige and executive car retailer, Sytner Group, which achieved third position in the 2011 '25 Best Companies to Work For' list. But this is not enough on its own to build a sustainable and growing company. What is missing is vision and purpose. The question must be, what does this organisation want to be? - not, what has it been? "I am not sure the Government has a clear vision," says Roden, "and if you don't know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else."

One of the problems, as with so many organisations, is that vested interests at the top cloud this discussion. The short-termism of leadership creates an environment in which the need to gain immediate return - be it individual reward, satisfying stakeholder demands or being re-elected - outweighs a longer term, sustainable approach. As with listed companies, where the average tenure for a CEO is now the shortest ever at 6.6 years, according to analysts Booz & Co, so the CEO of UK plc has only a finite time (perhaps just five years, if not re-elected; less, if the coalition founders) to steer the company onwards and upwards.

"You have got to have a party that believes it will be in power for 20 years, or which is sufficiently broadminded to take a longer term approach," says Charles Handy, social philosopher and HR magazine's 2011 lifetime achievement award winner.

So what should the vision be? Few would disagree with chair of the Taskforce for Employee Engagement David MacLeod's suggestion that UK plc's overall purpose is to create wealth to sustain the quality of living and sense of wellbeing that the population of the country desires. This is a compelling vision that everyone should be able to understand and buy into. The difficulty is agreeing strategy to achieve this vision. How do we build a successful wealth-creating machine? Much of the growth debate to date has been on what this machine should look like. To create wealth, one needs to innovate (find new ways of doing things), or deliver better customer service than anyone else, or find cheaper ways of doing things or expand into new territories/markets.

It is this last point that has been the focus of much of the discussion in the UK plc boardroom. There is general agreement the organisation needs more diversification and to move away from its dependence on the financial and public sectors to a business with a more balanced revenue stream.

To define these revenue streams, the HR director can help the CEO and finance director to identify the core competencies of UK plc. Are they innovation, as in the US, manufacturing, as in Germany, or cheap labour, as is available in emerging markets?

While a vocal group appears to be calling for a return to the good old days of manufacturing, realpolitik points to a different picture. As MacLeod says: "We can't retreat to a few high-powered motorbikes."

Any strategy should be evidence-based, and all the evidence points to the UK's strength being in the service, research and creative sectors, to a competitive advantage in finance and to skills in innovative, high-tech markets such as gaming and engineering. In other words, UK plc's core competencies are based around knowledge.

There are two challenges arising from this conclusion. First, in this highly networked world, knowledge work can be carried out almost anywhere. Why not just pick up your laptop and go to Geneva? The HR director and board need to make UK plc the most attractive place to carry out such work. This means writing a reward, incentives and engagement strategy. It also means, as chairman of People in Business, Simon Barrow, points out, defining the employer brand of the UK.

Professor Birgitte Andersen, director of the Big Innovation Centre, calls for investment and resources to enable "a robust innovation ecosystem that would promote greater sharing of data, information and knowledge". Meanwhile, Roden argues for immediate intervention in the form of tax breaks for certain sectors. Canada, for one, is courting the gaming sector with a myriad of such incentives. He also believes the 50p tax rate and immigration rules need to be re-examined.

"I don't think the 50p tax rate is helpful. We have one of the highest tax rates of the major centres we compete with. When stimulating growth, we have got to look at the tax regime," Roden says.

"Immigration rules are also not helpful," he adds. "For example, between now and 2025, half the people in engineering are retiring. Where are the replacements? Many people are doing engineering in university here, from countries such as Malaysia, but then going back home. Universities are making money, but not UK plc.

"Or what about the shortage of Indian chefs? Are we seriously saying that lots of British people will be trained in this? Let skilled people in, so we can have our curry on a Friday night."

This brings us to the second challenge: people. People execute strategy. People deliver growth. Period. People strategy is therefore arguably the most important element in UK plc's turnaround.

"For sure, we will not legislate our way [to growing UK plc]," says Nieuwenhuys. "It is more about us understanding how to value people and workplace culture." Or, as Nita Clarke, director of the Involvement and Participation Association and vice-chair of the MacLeod Review on employee engagement, says, adapting Bill Clinton's famous comment on the economy: "It's the people, stupid."

But there's a problem. "Broadly, only a third of people are engaged, so, with so much capability and potential left on the table, UK plc is not going to achieve. We need to harness this potential, as it correlates with better business and societal outcomes," says MacLeod.

UK plc must find a better way to enable better personal growth for people, hand in hand with organisational growth, agrees Angie Risley, group HR director at Lloyds Banking Group. "If we achieve this, people will feel more committed and engaged; improved engagement means higher productivity. If the capability and potential of people at work can be realised, growth for Britain will be inevitable," she says.

A clear vision and communication are vital components in generating this engagement. But it is on management that HRDs needs to concentrate their efforts.

"Management has not kept pace with changes," explains MacLeod. "Work used to be about arms and legs, now it is about heads and hearts. It used to be about maximising wealth by moving things from here to there, now there is more discretion about where employees offer their creativity and energy. It used to be that 20 years ago the boss said 'jump' and you answered, 'how high?' Now you ask, 'why?'"

The death of deference and trust has a major impact on how people view work, Clarke adds. "Young people are not prepared to hang their brains on the door when they go to work. People have more to give than simply labour. Knowledge used to be power and the CEO and board would sit on it. Now anyone can see what is going on. The power balance has changed."

The key to getting UK plc great again is to unlock the potential of its people. So what can its HR director do? The focus needs to be on talent and engagement.

First, talent. The UK has proved to have a flexible and diverse workforce, perhaps the most flexible and diverse in the world, positioning it well for the business environment of the 21st century. But there are failings in the talent pipeline.

"We take on a lot of bright and aspirational school-leavers, but sadly, too many leave school lacking these qualities," says Nieuwenhuys.

UK plc needs to invest in the appropriate skills and tools for its employees - the population - to succeed. "In our organisation, growing talent is a key priority," explains Risley. "Cultivating talent growth in wider society is equally important. The UK Government has already introduced excellent initiatives in this area, but we can't be complacent. Businesses must also support training and education for the unemployed, the un-educated, school-leavers, and those people without the financial stability to put themselves through university or further education. Apprenticeships also have a role to play if they gain greater recognition and wider use by employers in new sectors - the Government is rightly planning an emphasis on apprenticeships as part of its skills agenda."

Talent is the number one challenge for HR directors, adds Anna Penfold, client partner, HR centre of expertise, at Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann. It is the "crucial lifeblood of their organisation and the reason that they succeed or fail".

"The constant refrain is that, on the whole, the talent pipeline has been squeezed to death and that the investment in development, from the ground up, just doesn't seem to exist anymore," Penfold observes. "Graduate schemes have been trimmed, then reduced and, in the vast majority, have been hacked away at, so we now have a situation where many graduates fail to even find unpaid, voluntary work upon leaving university."

Vince Cable, UK plc HRD, should approach talent development with the same level of commitment as business does. There needs to be a pipeline, there needs to be training for people at all levels and not just a concentration on the 'top talent' - those with degrees. Education is an issue that still has to be tackled. There must be collaboration and the development of networks in the form of clusters of institutions and organisations to encourage this collaboration and innovation, such as Silicon Roundabout. As Handy says, there needs to be a culture of risk and experimentation.

"The DNA guys would never have happened if the Science Research Council had not given money for them to fool around at Cambridge. You have got to give people the freedom and money and say 'go'," Handy explains.

The second HR strategy is around engagement. The HRD should set a goal, for example, of increasing engagement levels from 30% to 60% in the first phase. Then HR should deliver it via a programme of behavioural change, starting with the improvement of management. Management behaviour needs to change, if the people of UK plc are to willingly give more.

"In emerging economies, there is a visceral imperative to engagement: if I keep a job, I can educate my children, buy a car and have a better life. We don't have this here," says MacLeod. "The question is, do leaders and managers see people as part of the solution - or a problem?"

Clarke points out that successful managers listen. They create a story about where the organisation is going, so that employees understand. They articulate what success looks like. They treat staff like human beings, not human capital. They coach their people.

In 2002, the then DTI asked professor Michael Porter of the Institute of Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, arguably the world's pre-eminent thinker on competition, to investigate the UK's persistent productivity gap. He highlighted continued weakness in terms of skills, clusters of interconnected companies and innovation and argued that only by focusing on improving skills, stimulating innovation and fostering enterprise would UK plc be able to move to the next stage of improving competitiveness and achieve sustained higher levels of prosperity.

A decade on and a financial crisis later, the same message rings true. Investing in physical infrastructure is good; investing in intellectual infrastructure is better.

Energising and engaging the people of the UK is vital for growth. UK plc needs a people strategy.

If all this sounds fanciful, just look at one country that did just this. Handy worked with the Singapore government some 20 years ago on developing a manpower plan for the country.

"To us, it was obvious Singapore lacked entrepreneurs. It had been copying the West very well, but now needed to lead the West. It needed creativity, but there were no conditions for creativity in Singapore," Handy explains.

"There was no art gallery, no permanent theatre company, no professional orchestra, no research universities. There was a rigid curriculum, compulsory military service and limited press freedom. The top people put their heads together, like a business, and took dramatic action. They built arts complexes, cut the curriculum by 30% and said to teachers 'you fill it' and persuaded universities to set up there. Now, most business schools have a branch in Singapore and things are happening."

Leaders of UK plc need to create an environment in which the population thinks and works better. It needs to engage its people, both in society and work. It is time for the quartet at the top of UK plc to develop a sustainable people strategy.

Four protagonists of the UK plc board

CEO: David Cameron

As leader of UK plc, Cameron is responsible for setting the vision. He has the difficult job of keeping his employee stakeholders on side (the population), while satisfying the needs of his vocal and sometimes antagonistic shareholders (the Tory party). He portrays himself as the caring, sharing leader, pushing collaborative credentials through his appointment of non-exec director Nick Clegg and HRD Vince Cable to the board. He does not take the command-and-control approach of the former CEO. He has media/communication skills down pat. But every now and then, his authenticity is questioned and he will need to keep an eye on his reputation if he is to achieve business turnaround.

HR director: Vince Cable

As head of the department of business, innovation and skills, Cable is a strategic HRD. No worries about him putting the business first. It is second nature, thanks to a background in business - something many other board members lack. Cable is struggling to get heard on some big issues, particularly around investment in skills. He failed to convince the board against a hike in training (university) fees and had disagreements with the board over stemming the flow of talent (immigration controls). He has succeeded in pushing through a new remuneration plan. Cable's no-nonsense approach has endeared him to many stakeholders, but his inability to protect the training budget has lost him many employee fans.

Finance director: George Osborne

Osborne spends his time trying to balance the books. He has hard decisions to make - the plc is over-leveraged and struggling to pay its debts. There are tricky decisions to be made on investment. Growth at UK plc will not happen by cuts alone. Accustomed to being the 'baddie', Osborne is sticking with his strategy, but will have to listen to the other board members if first shoots of growth fail to appear this spring.

Non-executive director: Nick Clegg

Clegg has played a crucial role in backing Cameron as CEO and enabling him to get his decisions passed by the board. He is the consummate politician in business, smoothing the path for some of the CEO's most controversial strategies. He has succeeded in talking Cameron around on a number of the key decisions, not least the wellbeing strategy (NHS reforms) and employees on the lowest wages (increasing the tax threshold). Despite a media-friendly style, he has struggled to communicate to the wider stakeholders the impact he has made and is in danger of being voted off the board at the next AGM.

David Cleeton-Watkins, lead consultant, Roffey Park

Politicians talk of putting the 'great' back in to Britain. But Britain is still a great nation, politically important and influential in the world, one of the top six countries economically, its people educated and urbane - a place that people still want to come to.

There are many perspectives - we are a diverse and complex place, so the idea we can truly be 'one UK nation' may be no more than an aspiration. Can we treat UK plc as a large and complex organisation that has lost its way in the world, looking at it from an organisational development (OD) perspective?

First, a symptom. Why so much nostalgia? Why are we still fighting the Germans? Distrusting the French? It seems pretty plain we have yet to find a place in the world that allows us to 'move on' into the 21st century. All the evidence points to us needing to discover a sense of what we want to be: what should UK plc stand for? What kind of country do we want to provide for those who come after us?

This is a big shift - away from short-termism and purely economic measures towards a shared sense of being and belonging. This kind of inclusivity is there in UK plc, but harder to find in the shareholder value economy that we copy from the US: we need to look elsewhere for our future.

This is not Pollyanna stuff. To define what we want, we need to be clear and balance some of the obvious polarities: wealth for a few versus prosperity for many (or can we have both?); fulfilment as a person, materialism and so on. Then we can act on some of the underlying structural difficulties - class, poverty and inequality - that so denude people's lives.

So where to start with our OD interventions for UK plc? Let us begin by creating vision and direction: what do we want to become? A great place to live, a great place to work, and a great place to be what we want to be? Difficult, yes, but the right kind of aspirations for the future.

Next, let's do a gap analysis: for example, we are no longer a pre-eminent industrial nation, but vibrant in service and finance, technology and innovation. Doesn't this imply putting our effort behind the knowledge economy? Behind innovation? Behind education (still one of our great assets), encouraging those areas where there is real potential?

Let us stop trying to recapture the past.

Someone once observed that the world's difficult questions have mostly been answered. They suggested that the individual brain might not be enough to handle modern complexities. We see this in science, engineering, IT and medicine - pretty much every area of endeavour. Working together produces results: the age of cooperation can be another part of our vision.

Our history shows us as pirates, plunderers and imperialists. But this is today.

Angie Risley, group HR director, Lloyds Banking Group

The British economy needs productivity and growth. If it is to continue to be successful, it must find a better way to enable better personal growth for people, hand in hand with organisational growth: improved engagement means higher productivity. The Government established a Taskforce for Employee Engagement in 2011 and this is a step in the right direction that will support people in the workplace with practical resources to bring about change. If the capability and potential of people at work can be realised, growth will be inevitable.

We must ensure people understand exactly the support available to them. Government should encourage companies to: commit more to training their workforce; improve diversity and inclusion; enable equal access to a variety of opportunities; and make businesses work more closely with their communities to build relationships and share skills.

Our ambition is for a more diverse, better engaged and stimulated employee group, to help us achieve our goals. At Lloyds Banking Group (LBG), we want the diversity of our employee base to reflect the diversity in our society: the better we reflect our market, the better we can serve it. People underpin success. We need to approach UK talent development with the same level of focus businesses apply to their staff, providing the appropriate skills and tools to succeed.

In our organisation, growing talent is a key priority. Cultivating talent growth in wider society is equally important. The UK Government has already introduced some excellent initiatives, but we can't be complacent. Businesses also have a key role to play in making sure our workforce is as competitive as it can be, with the skills that are needed. Businesses must also support training and education for the unemployed, the un-educated, school-leavers and those people without the financial stability to put themselves through university or further education.

Apprenticeships also have a role to play, if they gain greater recognition and wider use by employers in new sectors - the Government is rightly planning an emphasis on apprenticeships as part of its skills agenda.

With an employee base of over 100,000, it is safe to say the mood of our colleagues has implications for the mood of wider society. Over the past couple of years, we have had to work hard to keep staff engaged in a turbulent economy and at a time where role reductions within the business have been necessary. Understanding what is troubling people and then responding by taking action around those concerns, where possible, can balance harder messages such as job cuts and austerity measures.

Ultimately, the same approach needs to be applied by all of us. This includes businesses (such as LBG) and the Government: we need to motivate and nurture a growing pool of talent that drives our businesses and our growth in a way that is sustainable and yet realistic in the current climate.

Professor Birgitte Andersen, director, Big Innovation Centre

If I were HR director of UK plc, my priority would be putting in place a robust, innovation ecosystem that promoted greater sharing of data, information and knowledge. This would stimulate a creative environment and learning processes for the entire organisation.

Each 'employee', regardless of role, would be thought of as making an entrepreneurial contribution. In our emerging network society, this collective entrepreneurship and interactive learning are crucial for fostering collaborations throughout the supply chain, in the UK and internationally: encompassing engagement with the user or consumer experience and spanning UK plc's entire ecosystem of businesses, banks, universities, education system and government.

Collective entrepreneurship and interactive learning also need to flow across cultures and countries. Only by considering UK plc as a networked ecosystem of innovation can we develop the dynamic capabilities people, firms and sectors the UK will require to thrive in the fast-changing economy and society ahead of us.

To enable this, I would institute a major programme for developing management and leadership skills across the ecosystem. This programme would focus on encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation, based on 'open innovation' business models. It would particularly target leaders of high-growth firms, and potential high-growth firms, as it is here we can make the biggest difference to UK plc's international success.

While the UK Government's December 2011 report, Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth, offers some pointers for a successful strategy for developing the ecosystem, it needs to be backed by sufficient investment and resources from such an 'enterprising state' to develop the capabilities and collective intellectual property UK plc will need to be recognised as a global innovation hub by 2025.

Anna Penfold, client partner human resources centre of expertise, Korn/Ferry Whitehead Man

I know it's a cliché, but within every cliché lies some small kernel of truth: we just don't focus on our young people enough. UK plc relies on smart, innovative, hard-working, entrepreneurial young people who keep shaping us as a nation and who will be the leaders of the future. Under previous governments (admittedly, in better economic times), we have succeeded in creating a generation of young people who have much greater access to higher education (albeit now the costs have similarly grown) than even a few years ago. But there is also, as a result, the fact that going to university or college becomes the norm.

While last year's tuition fees debacle spurred a 12% drop in university applications in the UK, on the whole as a nation we have created the expectation that, in order to succeed, you must go to university, and to do so is exorbitantly expensive. Graduating, furthermore, does not guarantee paid work. And yet we still don't place a high enough value on apprenticeships. This, to me, seems to be the worst of all possible worlds: we create an ever-expanding generation of expensively, highly-educated graduates and rush headlong into a prolonged recession. Then, to boot, we fail to provide a sufficient number of apprenticeships or training schemes to encourage those who might just want to work straight from school - creating a vicious circle, where university education seems to be the only viable option for our teenagers - but there's precious little to gain at the end of it.

Some 10 or 15 years ago, if you were to ask any business leader which companies grew great people, they would be able to reel off a comprehensive list within seconds. We talk in reverential terms about the Fords of yesteryear, or how Diageo, BP, Pepsi or even Tesco hired graduates in their hundreds or thousands and gave them phenomenal experiences across the full range of business functions within their first couple of years.

We speak to HR directors on a constant basis, HR leaders of all shapes and sizes, garnered from all industries and all walks of life. Talent is always their number one challenge, the crucial lifeblood of their organisation and the reason they succeed or fail. The constant refrain is that, on the whole, the talent pipeline has been squeezed to death and the investment in development, from the ground up, just doesn't seem to exist anymore - that the Fords of yesteryear have mostly withered and died. Graduate schemes have been trimmed, and then reduced and, in the vast majority of cases, have been hacked away at, so we now have a society where many graduates fail even to find unpaid, voluntary work upon leaving university.

Yes, profits have been hit, yes, EBITDA looks a little shaky quarter to quarter, but my plea to David, Vince et al would be - to coin another sadly-missed cliché - when it comes to investing in our leaders of the future, 'every little helps'.

Simon Barrow, chairman of People in Business

My objective would be to improve the productivity, skills, teamwork and engagement of the people of the UK. My priorities would be to:

1. Demonstrate the HR advantages of the United Kingdom staying together. We need the talent of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Undertake research that shows the extent to which we are interlinked in human capital

2. Define the employer brand (EB) of the UK - what are the benefits of working here, what needs to change, how will the UK employer brand be managed in a coherent, innovative and measured way? I would start a UKEB unit within the department for work and pensions, drawing in skills from all other relevant departments and from CEOs and HRDs. The remit is to define the vision/rationale and drive the changes necessary to deliver it.

The big three HR-related changes to enhance the UK EB are these:

a) Argue the case for cultural change. This is a mid-sized European country with brilliant skills in technology, creative and media - and in financial services, in particular. Our focus is on the UK, rather than that well-worn phrase, 'punching above our weight in the world'. Let our goods and services do that, not our political stance. What historic baggage lies behind the UK being the fourth biggest defence spender globally? Who do we think we are? It is time to move on and be who we are now

b) Make private education unfashionable. Private education is a necessary option in the rest of Europe, for those with expat parents or special needs. That is what it needs to be in the UK, rather than seeing the private sector's 7% share of pupils being responsible for 54% of our FTSE CEOs, 70% of our judges and so on. Bring the parent power of this group to bear to change the culture and standards in state education and create a truly diverse and unified country. Undertake research to show that most young people in private schools would like to be part of a first-class state system. They don't want to be different any more. Make the Sutton Trust's recommendations Government policy

c) Educate and incentivise the scientific, engineering and ICT strengths in the UK. Implement the changes to combine arts and maths, as recommended in the Livingstone-Hope report of May 2011

Martin Tiplady, MD of Chameleon People, former HR director of the Metropolitan Police

My concern is about employment and how the Government is talking about levels of unemployment as being acceptable. But at the same time, it is giving out statements that those unemployed are, largely, layabouts who do not wish to work. It is tosh.

So too is the view that levels of unemployment are part of the economic solution. Put another way, I just do not get why so little is being done to counter the highest levels of unemployment for 20 years and the highest ever levels of youth unemployment. What are we saying to our youth? Pay impossible fees for university, take a big loan and at the end of it have no job? Where is the joined-up thinking in that?

I detest the promotion of old employment initiatives dressed up in new garments as the solution: all they do is scratch the surface. I truly despise the view that if our unemployed got off their backsides and found jobs, all would be solved. Where are these jobs? It is OK to harp on about 50 Poles who have been appointed to driver jobs in Arriva because UK residents did not apply. But this is a tiddly example being used to misrepresent the true position. We have more unemployed now than at any time in recent years and more youth unemployed than ever recorded. Such a position needs strategic attention and investment - which in turn gets the economy moving - rather than little political initiatives dressed up as big solutions.

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