Reading UK news it’s obvious that our problems in the time of Brexit are escalating. This seems in part down to an inability to implement and manage even well-intentioned initiatives – like the expansion of Covid-19 testing. While this has little direct connection to Brexit, there are many stories of people being sent on round trips of hundreds of miles for testing and the feeling of incapability/shambles. Compared to Brexit, CV-19 testing is a doddle.

Whatever the project, there is one factor that recurs in all of them – our inability to design, plan and implement changes in a reliable and thought-through manner. Why is that?

Project management is not a glamorous activity. And our Cabinet apparently has little appetite for it.

It requires simultaneous attention to details in multiple areas, monitoring progress, balancing budgets, adjusting goals, to name just three. All demand sustained attention; failure in one predicates failure in all. Those supervising are almost certainly not experts in all domains.

In all of our Breakthrough projects throughout the 90’s and noughties, planning and implementation phases saw both the biggest fall-out in committed personnel coupled with the most vicious attacks from parts of the organisation who saw themselves as affected by proposed changes. Nearly everyone preferred a future that looked like a progression (gradual if you please) from the present.

Additionally, given modern corporations appetite for re-structuring & re-engineering there was never a visible and reliable cast or route to innovation; people were re-aligned, re-allocated, promoted, sidelined, given additional goals, tasks, responsibilities all the time.

In addition it proved difficult to enrol people into projects they did not have a part in designing, especially if projects had a risky ‘innovation’ label.

Looking back it’s amazing that we achieved as much as we did at British Airways, BT, BUPA, Glaxo-Smith Kline , Holiday Inn & Crowne Plaza. I owe a debt of gratitude to some stalwart clients, Pat Stafford, Paul Smits and Martyn Bridger among the most outstanding.

But even with the trials and troubles, the appetite for innovation and breakthrough was much more alive than it is today. We are entering a regressive mind-set as populism and nationalism dictate. Fantasies and notions of good-old days abound. Dreams of ‘going it alone’ propel people to the idea of an independent Britain. We forget that we were the ‘sick man of Europe’ and we joined the Common Market in 1973 to benefit from collaboration and freer trade.

The UK has nine of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe, with suggestions that the rapid industrial decline brought about under Margaret Thatcher is chiefly responsible for creating pockets of poverty in one of the World’s richest economies. 

West Wales, Durham and Tees Valley, South Yorkshire and Northern Ireland all rank highly as poor areas in Europe in a report by Inequality Briefing (2018). The report notes that despite Britain having a similar economic make-up to its northern European counterparts, it is a far more unequal country.

We will regret this Brexit debacle, and our inequality means that the most vulnerable will suffer most; yet it may be many years before the folly of Brexit is admitted and we apply to rejoin the EU who may be more demanding in their terms for our future participation. It is quite possible that Scotland and Wales will precede us and that the Union will break up. And you can say goodbye to Sterling too.

Brexit will unleash a sustained sequence of unexpected and unwanted consequences.