Government Strategies for the Greener Good – CBE-MHA Lecture Series

Written by Kieran Davies. Kieran is currently a BSc International Relations student at the University of Surrey

On the 20th of March 2024, the Centre for Britain and Europe (CBE), under the University of Surrey, invited students to attend a joint event in collaboration with MHA, an independent member firm of Baker Tilly International, hosted at the headquarters for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The emphasis of the event was on sustainability, and how it can be developed and fostered within business. In attendance included some of the largest companies operating in the United Kingdom, all trying to understand how policy enacted regarding sustainability can allow growth to continue within their industry.

Representing MHA was Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, an expert at the integration of sustainable practices within business. MHA believe that sustainability within business is a core part of growth and has pledged to reach net zero by 2030. He highlighted how the UK was once a leader in the field, being the first country to enact a piece of sustainability legislation in 2019, but they emphasise how the country has fallen behind regarding sustainable practices and laws. One of the key takeaways from this presentation was that sustainability has to be a fundamental part of businesses during the growing period. The inclusion of sustainable practices from the outset of the growth period allows firms working with MHA to have a fully integrated understanding of how they can continue to be sustainable when they become much larger in size. Mark underlined the importance of companies being able to adapt to meet the ever-growing environmental concerns of both the government, but also an increasing and more vocal public outcry on climate-related issues. One aspect of the presentation that I found to be insightful was how MHA work in tandem with its clients to adopt sustainable practices within their firms. This included the petrochemical industry, an area in which MHA has several clients that would stand to be hindered by sustainability legislation that is contradictory to its business model as a whole.

In the public policy field was Annie Renison, an expert in trade policy and public affairs. A key area of focus for Annie was the lack of investment when it comes to sustainable infrastructure. Understanding how the whims of local campaigners and consumers clash with the wants of those looking to invest, matched with the often ballooning cost of major infrastructure projects, prevents the UK from achieving national goals and targets it has set for itself. When it comes to big projects like that of High Speed 2 (HS2) railway and the need to rewire the British national grid, there is often a bigger price tag attached than many are originally led to believe. Annie highlights that there is only so much money that can be thrown at national infrastructure issues before the ambitions of investors, and more importantly, public sentiment on the issue subsides. Also given a focus was the issue of matching the ambitions of those in the decision-making positions and how they will fair with the reality that is set before them. Using the example of evidence currently provided by pre-polling data and the current popularity of the Labour Party, she highlighted how their manifesto pledges that they wish to carry out need to be tempered with the reality of the current state of the UK economy.  It’s important to understand that any major investment will require further borrowing on an already large and increasing national debt. To close, she presented the interesting question of how these Labour Party policies are already being scrutinized by the media as if they were in government. This opens up questions as to how they will face the issue of sustainable development with other groups like that of the EU, with the organisation already knowing where they stand on the issues and the possibility for further integration between the two former partners.

When faced with questions from business leaders, the pair expressed the need for the government to provide clarity on the ecological strategies that they wish to pursue. This was a major issue that many of the other attendees in presence, and clients of MHA face, with the “tsunami of legislation” that may face them should they fall short of meeting government-set standards. Also highlighted were the shortcomings of schemes set up to deal with green energy finance. These included the carbon trading scheme and carbon pricing. By providing the policies and the system they operate within with more credibility, the government could prevent companies from finding loopholes in them and committing crimes in the interest of their bottom line.

On a more personal note, I believe that when it comes to events like this, it should be in the best interests of students to attend, even if it may be in a field of a topic they don’t intend to pursue a career in. Understanding the first-hand experience of others, from experts and prominent and successful businessmen and women with a lot more experience than myself, provides an invaluable insight into how the everyday activities of business, and the people who work for them, operate. It is my strongly held opinion that the University, through its departments, should continue to allow students to benefit from activities such as this one, as a much stronger understanding of the importance of the issues that we will face in later life can be developed. The aspect of attending the events in person is also crucial, as opposed to virtually, as it provides a much more hospitable environment for debate to be encouraged, and for understanding how differing people’s views and opinions influence their beliefs over the topics on discussion.

I hope that the department is able to continue to provide the opportunity for myself and many other students to continue to attend events like this one. I would like to thank Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, Annie Renison, and Professor Amelia Hadfield for giving up their time to contribute their expertise and insight into the issue of sustainability, an issue that will continue to be a major point of contention in the relationship between business and the governmental systems in which they operate for many years to come.