· 2 min read · Features

UK plc: It's the people stupid


It is a year next month since chancellor George Osborne announced his Budget for Growth. But so far that growth has amounted to a paltry 0.9%, according to ONS. Worse still, GDP shrank 0.2% in the last three months of 2011.

It all adds up to a lot of hot air and very little action. Yes, Osborne is attempting to kick-start the economy with a £5 billion investment in infrastructure. And there is his much-trumpeted £1 billion youth contract. But so far it has all been about cuts: to jobs, to public spending and to pay. As PwC's Neil Roden says: "You can't shrink yourself to greatness."

Well, here's a revelation. People create growth, people innovate and people deliver strategy. This is the missing link in the Government's programme for growth .

In the latest issue of HR magazine, we argue that PM David Cameron needs to approach the UK in the same way a CEO runs a company. He needs a vision. He needs to identify the core competencies of UK plc. He needs to create a strategy for wealth creation. He needs to develop an employer brand. And he needs an HR strategy.

The good news is, he is pushing against an open door. We all want the 'Great' back in Britain. When I approached HR leaders, academics and experts for this feature, I was struck by how engaged they became in the subject. All agreed Britain is still great - it just needs a better defined and communicated vision and purpose in the 21st century.

So let's start by putting to bed once and for all the misguided notion that we can turn the clocks back. We are never going to be the big manufacturing nation we once were. Let us not be scared to back our financial services sector. It is world class. Yes, there is the need to refine some HR policies (bonuses, anyone?), but we should not allow the political agenda to pander to popular (mis)conceptions.

Let's big up our knowledge-based sectors: high tech, academia, the creative industries. And the service sector. According to respected forecaster CEBR, one of the few positives this year will be the B2B service sector, including HR service providers.

All of these industries are now the core competencies of UK plc. So it's time the debate moved from rhetoric to action. We need an HR strategy focused on developing the skills and talent needed in the 21st century. We need to focus on diversity, collaboration, communication - all elements that foster innovation and creativity.

We need a framework that protects workers, while enabling flexibility and agility. We need employers to understand it's no longer about the proverbial bums on seats. Imparting ideas, sharing knowledge - these are discretionary activities. If you don't engage employees, they will take these ideas elsewhere. It is time for a shake-up in management practice.

So I would like to begin February with a message to Cameron and his UK plc board: it's the people, stupid.