President’s Christmas blog


Every year, at some point on Christmas Day, I either listen to or watch the Queen's Speech. Usually, Her Majesty reflects on the year past and weaves the first Christmas Story seamlessly into her narrative. At the end of the speech, she leaves the audience typically uplifted with a message of hope for the year to come. Whilst in no way suggesting any comparison between her Majesty's annual address and mine, I suspect that she will touch on the difficult year we have just had.

2016 will be seen as a pivotal year, I am sure, where new destinies were forged, paradigms shifted  and conventions were dropped from the turmoil of voters doing unpredictable things, and others doing abominable acts.

Were it ever thus? Certain commentators have likened the latter half of 2016 to 1980/81 -  the change of an outgoing US Democrat President being replaced by an unknown quantity, unconventional new Republican, a strong Russian leader, a not so telegenic UK labour leader and a UK woman Prime Minister – Carter, Reagan, Brezhnev, Foot and Thatcher, with the same roles being played by new actors, Obama, Trump, Putin, Corbyn and May. They say history repeats. Surrounding both sets of characters there was a cold war and some proxy hot wars and the ever present terrorism with the Red Army Faction/Baader Meinhof in Germany, and the IRA in the UK then and AQ and ISIS now.

I guess when you look back over the 2000 years to that first Christmas, the evil empire was Rome, the local king, Herod, was its puppet in Judea and there had been a series of wars in that region for many hundreds of years, which must have left factions and uprisings aplenty that would be no different today. The only variables that have changed are the method of slaughter and the speed at which the news is delivered. However, the Christmas story is one of future hope, no matter what your belonging or religion.

There is no doubt that we are experiencing a period of great uncertainty, markets and currency traders are twitchy. The merest hint of any change sends markets climbing or tumbling. How can we plan in such circumstances for the sort of future that many (not all I admit) aspire to?  It was General then President Eisenhower who suggested that “plans are nothing but planning is everything’ and Helmuth von Moltke, the German Military Strategist, who stated ‘no battle plan survives first contact with enemy’. When your plan is first tested in a real situation, the reality changes the plan. You might think then that creation of a plan that will fail is nonsensical – not so, says Eisenhower, it is the process of planning and optioneering that delivers the results. Planning and processing options once enacted leaves you with a flexibility to deliver the result – or as close as you can to your original idea.

Over the last few days, we have had to consider a number of contingencies, planning for a possible strike (now averted) at the airport, which may look great on paper but the actuality is such that the variables on the day will determine the success of the operation. How many staff will turn up, how many will be qualified in the right areas and how many volunteers will you get? All unknown quantities until the day itself.

2017 is going to have many of the issues that surfaced this year, they just may have different names – Nexit, Frexit, Itexit, wall building and not bridge building and a big dose of uncertainty. So no change there then. However, I hope that we are wiser and we should be able to plan in this Rumsfeldian economic reality – that no matter what may be thrown at us, we know that the answer will not be black and white, it will require planning and guile and a little bit of luck to manage the grey.

I am feel very privileged to be involved in the organisations I work for and with at this time in the Midlands, because despite all the uncertainty, and a lot of social, health and skills issues that we have, we have some wonderful people here who are planning and presenting us with opportunities to transform this region into a leading industrial and commercial engine for the UK.  My message for the New Year is one of hope, I am an optimist, and I believe that we in this region are laying the foundations for the success that hopefully more can share in as we create, through a common purpose with business and politicians, and the communities working together, a city region of which we can all be proud.

As we continue our planning for next year, may I wish you and your families a Happy Christmas and a prosperous and successful 2017.