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By ANNABELLE DICKSON and (still, somehow, honestly we’re really going soon, promise) MATT HONEYCOMBE-FOSTER
COADEC’S WILD WEEK: It’s been one hell of a week for start-ups lobby the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) as Silicon Valley Bank’s U.K. arm was dramatically snatched from the abyss by HSBC in that big government-facilitated buy-out.
And: To get there, worried start-ups first needed to raise the alarm — meaning Coadec was heavily involved in an intense 48 hours of lobbying, briefing members, and, boss Dom Hallas tells Influence, clocking roughly seven hours’ kip across the entire weekend.
First, read this: The POLITICO tech team have the essential inside track on how the race to find a new home for SVB over here went down. A “Save UK Tech Working Group” WhatsApp team of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists sprang up to coordinate messages to government, a big open letter went flying out to Jeremy Hunt, and groups including UK Finance, Tech Nation, Innovate Finance, BVCA and Coadec all stepped up.
Caveat corner: Hallas says he’s “always happy” to take the victory lap for Coadec (they had a bit of a knees-up with Innovation Secretary Michelle Donelan on Monday night, for starters) but he stresses that the “real work” in the past few days has come from the “sort of deep state of the Prudential Regulation Authority, the Treasury and the Bank of England.” And he quips: “I don’t actually know how to bail out a bank — let’s be super-clear!” Scores of civil servants will, he says, go unrecognized for helping to shore up the finance that will now keep loads of people in jobs.
But but but: Coadec has done two main things, he says. First, it’s offered rapid intel to the key players, trying to “really clearly” show government the challenges faced by start-ups reliant on SVB U.K., “through data, through comms, through reaching the right people in government and making sure that they are where we need them to be.”
And: The second job, he explains, has been to create “the space for government to do their work” — essentially, making sure officials and ministers weren’t overloaded with disparate industry demands when time and bandwidth were tight.
Which means: Where normally Coadec might “unleash the companies” it represents on to government to up the pressure, Hallas says, this weekend there was a little bit more “holding them back” once the case for action had been made so officials could focus. “The truth is this was a response that required very technical work, on a specific problem, in a specific financial services business, in a specific way — all in the context of a 48-hour period,” Hallas explains. “If I was spending all that time on the phone to Treasury advisers — well, every minute they’re on the phone with me is a minute that they’re not solving the crisis.”
Inside track: Talks on the sale of SVB’s U.K. wing were necessarily shrouded in secrecy over the weekend. But Hallas tried to offer members short WhatsApp updates on the state of play, informing them “this is where we are, this is what we expect next — and if there’s no news, I’ll tell them there’s no news.” Rumor control was also important in key WhatsApp groups, he explains, as worried tech entrepreneurs picked up on media reports that weren’t quite right.
Comms chaos: Friday night comms from the Bank of England — saying SVB had only a “limited presence in the U.K. and no critical functions supporting the financial system” — horrified many in the U.K. tech sector, with firms heading into the weekend genuinely scared they might not be able to pay staff.
It got better though: Hallas says that message was “unhelpful, to be totally honest” and that it was read by the sector as a sign from Threadneedle Street “that they were just going to let the bank go bust.” One of the first things he conveyed to No. 10 Friday night was the need for comms clarity about the scale of the problem and what work was actually ongoing in Whitehall. SVB’s collapse was not, he argues, “just a policy crisis, it was actually also a confidence crisis in the market.” A Sunday morning Treasury statement — spelling out that the government saw the issue as “a high priority” and was “working at pace on a solution to avoid or minimize damage to some of our most promising companies” gets much more praise, and Hallas says it reassured members ministers really were on the case.
The Sunak factor: A lot has been made about Rishi Sunak’s own California tech-bro stylings. So did having a relatively young PM in No.10 who understands what an ‘internet’ actually is help Coadec and others make their case? “Obviously, it’s great to have the support of a prime minister who very clearly thinks technology and innovation is a core part of this country’s growth story,” Hallas says, pointing to a knowing “proud to be a tech geek” LinkedIn post from Sunak Monday morning.
But but but: He reckons Labour were in the right place on all this too, urging support for the sector via Rachel Reeves and Commons committee chairman Darren Jones over the weekend. “At those moments, it’s obviously helpful to have people who are genuinely interested in solving the problem,” Hallas says. “But in truth, there’s probably something bigger in it, which is that this was a crisis in an important part of our economy and the government of the day and the opposition were united on the need to solve it. We got there in the end.” Now for some kip?
TALKING OF TECH: Westminster’s think tanks are getting well into it, the bunch of dweebs. Get outside people, we write from the desk we haven’t left in two-and-half-years which also has a Nintendo Switch on it.
Across SW1: The center-right think tank Onward, free market Adam Smith Institute and stalwart of SW1 policy wonk world, Centre for Policy Studies, are among those that have skilled up on tech in the last year, the POLITICO team report. The Tony Blair Institute is making a huge push. Over the past 12 months the policy ideas industry has been on a hiring spree with a growing number of researchers in that world now working on innovation stuff. They’re digging in on issues ranging from how to regulate artificial intelligence to what the U.K.’s research and development tax regime should look like.
Not just the nerds: “After Brexit we need to do all we can to make the U.K. more competitive and position it for future growth, and obviously tech is a huge part of that and an area of huge potential for the UK,” CPS boss Robert Colville tells Annabelle Dickson. Full story here.
WISDOM IN 280
MEET ARTEMON: Think ahead or get caught short: that’s the message from new advisory firm Artemon Strategy, launched in recent weeks by Google and Policy Exchange veteran David Skelton and which is putting foresight at the heart of its pitch.
What’s in a name? “Artemon was the sail on a boat in ancient Rome,” Skelton tells Influence. “When they wanted to get through choppy waters into better waters they would use the Artemon to get through. That’s basically what we’re hoping to provide for businesses in an age of what I would describe as, in the post-Second World War period, unparalleled uncertainty.”
The pitch: Artemon is aiming to help firms anticipate and plan for wider shifts in geopolitics and business beyond just keeping the lights on and responding to immediate trends and crises. The basic premise is that the post-Cold War era of frictionless trade and relative stability is long gone. Populism and nationalism are on the rise, globalization is on the back foot, and China and the West are pulling further apart. So firms are working in a “deeply uncertain environment,” says Skelton — and need to get much better at things like scenario-planning and wargaming to ensure they’re not swamped by it all.
The big questions: “We will look at the forces in your strategic operating environment and say, this is what might be developing over the next few years,” Skelton says. “How, as a business, are you preparing for it? How are you anticipating things which might have a substantial impact on your operating environment?” One of the outfit’s taglines is “anticipate, adapt, act” – and Skelton points out that history is littered with examples of companies that either didn’t see big shifts coming or stuck their fingers in their ears.
For example: Blockbuster built its business on fining people for late video returns — then streaming came along. Nokia was king of the hill but then got bodied by the iPhone. Kodak, Skelton points out, was “symbolic of photography for about a century,” knew digital photography was coming but “decided not to act upon that foresight.”
By contrast: Fossil fuel giant Shell came out of the 1970s oil crisis better than many of its rivals by gaming out what newly-independent republics in control of supplies plus tension between the Arab world and Israel might mean for oil prices. TSMC, the Taiwanese chips behemoth — “the most important company in the world, according to many people,” Skelton says — saw which way the wind was blowing on increased use of electronic devices and got itself positioned. And Skelton’s old gaff Google (he worked in strategy and public policy there for seven years) snapped up a little-known start-up called Android back in 2005 as it anticipated the shift to mobile search.
Tricky conversations: Of course, waltzing in and telling a company it needs to keep its eyes on the horizon is no easy task. Skelton says his background in Westminster as a relative outsider hailing from the North East of England means he’s pretty well-versed in tricky conversations. At PolEx, he was urging the Tories to embrace the living wage before it was cool, and was an early voice calling on the Conservatives to focus on the North or risk “never being able to have a sustainable period of majority government again.”
Why go external? In-house corporate affairs and public policy teams have enough on their plate already, he argues, and when you’re inside a company it can be tough to “speak up and say difficult things” while also trying to “navigate the promotion ladder.” And so external voices can sometimes be more persuasive when it comes to the big-picture stuff that has the potential to disrupt. “The history of capitalism shows that no company has any divine right to exist,” warns Skelton. “And the history of tech-driven capitalism is that turnover is much quicker, particularly in an age of global uncertainty when you’ve got more regulation. Assumptions are amended very quickly. Therefore, you need to anticipate what comes next.”
**On March 28 at 4:00 p.m. CEST, POLITICO Live is hosting an online event on “Protecting Europe: How the war in Ukraine changed Europe’s thinking on defense?”. Join CSIS Director Max Bergamnn, Ambassadors to NATO of France and United Kingdom Muriel Domenach and David Quarrey as they will deep dive into Europe’s thinking on how to best arm itself and where allies should focus their defense priorities in the coming years. Register today.**
ON THE MOVE
Weber Shandwick picked former Meta exec Ella Fallows as its new U.K. head of public affairs. Fallows co-founded the Women in Public Affairs Network, and has been leading U.K. politics and government outreach at the social media giant.
PRCA head of communications Michael Collins is off to Sky next month for a top comms gig to be announced.
Hanbury hired ex-MHP public affairs boss Jamie Lyons as a partner. PR Week had the scoop.
Clutch of hires at advisory firm Fleetwood Strategy. Melantha Chittenden, ex-head of comms and media at Community Union, joins as senior manager. Zainab Hussain, formerly a senior associate at Kekst CNC, joins as manager. And Lance Morris joins as an executive after a spell with Red Flag.
Matthew Lesh has been appointed as the Institute of Economic Affairs‘ new director of public policy and comms, taking the reins from Annabel Denham, now at the Telegraph. Reem Ibrahim joins as the libertarian think tank’s new comms officer.
Tom Pollard — formerly of Mind and the DWP — is joining the New Economics Foundation as head of social policy.
Eva Steinhardt is joining the Law Society as campaigns coordinator after a stint with Change.org and, before that, in the office of Lib Dem Wera Hobhouse.
Line Kristensen is the RSA‘s new director of fellowship, after spells with Multiverse, NationBuilder and the Conservatives.
James Martin, currently director of public affairs at JBP, is off to become managing director and head of U.K. government affairs at the Managed Funds Association.
Joe Dharampal-Hornby has been promoted to policy and public affairs manager at the Impact Investing Institute.
ENERGY POINT-PEOPLE: Ministers have just announced a new ‘Energy Efficiency Taskforce’ with a raft of industry names on it which the government is promising will drive efforts “to improve homes and push down bills” and work to an actual goal.
Names in the frame: Minister Lord Callanan chairs alongside Natwest CEO Alison Rose — with the pair given “a clear target to support cutting energy use in the U.K. down by 15 per cent by 2030, from 2021 levels,” according to the new net-zero department. Also joining the group are National Infrastructure Commission boss John Armitt, and key players from Barratt Developments, B&Q, Energy U.K., Siemens and Make U.K. Full line-up here.
GONGS WE’VE NOT FORGOTTEN: Did you make it onto industry bible PR Week’s Power Book 2023? Check out the full list here.
CONTRACTS WATCH: The Cabinet Office brought in Ipsos Market Research on a £250k contract to review the way government evaluates its “major project portfolio” — which represents a whopping £678 billion of state spending, so no pressure lads.
Jobs, jobs, jobs: The European Movement UK, which has a “current, single-minded focus” on reversing Brexit, needs a head of press and media … The Catapult Network is searching for a head of policy and public affairs … Deputy director of comms gig going at the Francis Crick Institute … Research jobs up for grabs at Local Trust … Eurotunnel‘s on the hunt for a senior public affairs manager.
Thanks: To editor Paul Dallison for deleting the sweary limerick and to the POLITICO production team for getting this into your inbox.
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