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In uncertain times, we can’t wait to be told what to do


Arlen Pettitt's Column for the Journal

There are two things I try to remind myself of regularly – the first is that not everyone is as obsessive as me when it comes to keeping up with political news and the second is that no politician or civil servant I’ve ever met has been any more capable or insightful than anyone else when it comes to the issues.

That’s not to say there aren’t some very intelligent, honest and hardworking people in the halls of Westminster and Whitehall, just that they tend to have to work just as hard as the rest of us to keep up with what’s going on.

There are, of course, a few notable exceptions to this – both those who are genuinely quite gifted and those who for some reason don’t think they need to work that hard – but on the whole they are normal folk approaching their job the same way the rest of us would.

I’m very lucky to work in a stable, long-sighted organisation, but have in the past worked in places where the leadership changes, team restructuring and the threat of redundancy made doing the day job very difficult – so it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the difficulties facing civil servants in BEIS, DExEU or the Cabinet Office.

Earlier in the year businesses in the region were visited by representatives of BEIS – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – as part of a tour of the country to promote No Deal preparation.

It very quickly became clear that aside from a narrow window of agreed advice, there wasn’t a lot they could say. Again, this wasn’t because they weren’t capable people, or they hadn’t been working hard enough, it’s just that they are no more informed than the rest of us.

There are three reasons for this.

Firstly, despite being three years in, there’s still a vanishingly small amount that’s actually confirmed and set in stone.

Secondly, no country in the world has ever done something like this before. Without precedent it’s incredibly difficult to predict the impacts.

Thirdly, those making the decisions are several steps removed from the practicalities of actually running a business.

All of which is to say there will be no public information film, no official letter with steps to take and no civil servant with all the answers – we’re all going to need to work it out for ourselves.