Italian Chamber of Commerce in Florence (2018)

27th June 2018

INTRODUCTION

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.  I’m delighted to be here with you to share some insights on Brexit, Business and working in Britain.

BREXIT – THE BUST UP

Right now Brexit is in a revolving door.

Some are pushing for in, others for out.  The door only revolves one way – it remains to be seen who gets out where.

It’s interesting, given Italy’s swing to populist parties, that just this week in the Independent newspaper Tony Blair warned that rising populist forces could risk a return to the 1930s for Britain and claimed he had “never been more worried about the future of our country.”   He put his concern down to Brexit.

Of course Britain is not a simple country and its issues and connections with Europe are complex.  When describing someone who has ‘issues’ after the break-up of a relationship, the British use the term, ‘they have baggage,’ meaning a range of emotional insecurities and mistrusts they carry forward with them into any new relationship.   It is a trust issue and the problem is all of the territory is new.  With Brexit – no one knows who to trust or what information to believe.

I think it’s fair to say that while the negotiators are pushing at opposite sides of that revolving door the British ‘baggage’ is still on the airport carousel – but there never the less.

Mr Blair went on to suggest that Britain would not release itself from Brexit unless it makes sure that it is tackling the immigration problems people are angry about.  But then there is trade – no small issue.

BREXIT – THE COST

If we are unpacking our Brexit baggage, then it’s worth looking at cost too.  Again, who do we put our faith in?

Some say Britain could end up paying up to £50bn for its Brexit divorce which is at odds with the Treasury’s previous estimates of £35bn to £39bn.   Some MPs say the Treasury failed to take into account an additional £10bn of costs to the government, including £3bn towards the European Development Fund, which provides overseas aid.

Cross-party MPs also dismissed any “Brexit dividend”, saying any benefit from cash clawed back from Brussels was difficult to calculate and could take years to materialise. A promised £20bn NHS boost that was suggested could be funded partly by money the UK sends to Brussels has been cited as unlikely.

Mrs May continues to stick to her guns.  The Prime Minister has not revised the Treasury’s figures.

What does it mean for trade?  Well we trade with China, we trade with India, Africa and others outside Europe – and of course we will continue to trade with Europe. 

Business and the entrepreneurial will do what they always do, and find a way. 

TRATOS

That’s certainly how Tratos has flourished over more than 50 years.  A family business that sparked a renaissance in my home town after the war had left its infrastructure – but not its people – on its knees, is working at the cutting edge of technology.

What started with building bridges and working together to restore communications and transportation after the devastation of WWII bloomed into an innovation-led global company which has never lost its values.

Look after the people; innovate for better.  For better business and better lives for all of us.  Great values and they hold today.

Today we work internationally across transport – rail and roads, power, communications, ports and shipping.  If you think about it most game-changing innovation uses cable somewhere along the line.  We are making cable that is breaking ground for others’ businesses.  Cable that is faster, safer, advanced, more efficient and reliable; cable that pushes the boundaries – and there’s more to be done.

We have bases in the UK and in Italy and offices worldwide.  It is a privilege to work in the industry we work in, because it’s fundamental to so many others.  We’re problem solvers, working with customers to create bespoke cable to meet their particular challenges.

WORKING IN THE UK

When we at Tratos were looking for somewhere to base another factory we turned instinctively to the UK.

Britain had been at the forefront of the cable industry for decades.  There was still a highly valued pool of expertise, both at the top-level of cable engineering and in terms of those with factory-floor manufacturing know-how for this specialised business.

It also worked to our favour that the cable business in the UK formed clusters, so that pool was easily accessible in a small number of places.

We chose Knowsley in Merseyside.  It was the site of one of the biggest cable-making clusters; it had the expertise on the doorstep and was well connected in terms of transport links.   Our ambitions for the area  –  for building a new factory, for creating jobs and for training those who worked with us was met with a very warm welcome from the local authority.  We went on to secure Government funding for the development of our factory – alongside our own substantial investment – at the perfect location for our business.

Working in the UK has proven to be profitable, and it has been worth the effort.  I arrived in the country with no English and started at the bottom in the company.   But I threw myself into learning the language; I put myself out there, meeting others in industry and politics.  I wanted Tratos to belong to the right business communities and forums – intelligence is the life-blood of business and to act like a foreigner in your adopted country will never yield rewards.

I am now a British citizen.  When asked about my relationship with the UK I answer: –

Italy is my mother and the UK is my wife – do not ask me who I love more.

4TH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Britain is used to being the birthplace of industrial revolutions.  

We are talking here about things that change the world. 

The new thinking and new skills, the emerging technology and the creativity it enables – all of which is being harnessed differently – used differently – to change how we live, work, communicate and play.

This bold, brash incomer brings with it the possibilities that always spin out of disruption.

These are exciting times, and we have to decide whether to sink, or swim with our heads held high.

A job for life will become a rare thing.  It’s already on the endangered list.  I see 90% of white collar jobs vanishing.  That means the very fabric of life will change beyond all recognition.

And it won’t be the first time. 

Every generation has its disruptive technology. Today that technology is the Internet.

Our own commercial value – what we ‘bring to the business’ – is on thin ice.

This fourth industrial revolution drives the need for continuous learning.  It’s been a buzz-topic for some time, but life, I believe will take a more varied path as people leave education, gain skills, have their jobs change, re-educate and re-skill, change jobs and move forward.

If we don’t prepare for these seismic changes now, we will be left severely wrong-footed.

MARCH OF THE ROBOTS

For years robots have been working in a manufacturing environment, and intelligent tracking, packing and stacking systems have defined advances for retail warehousing.  These are low-skilled tasks, but the robots – they’re getting smarter, they’re learning.

Almost a third of British jobs could potentially fall foul to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, possibly more.

Driverless cars have arrived – where does that leave taxi, lorry, bus and train driver? 

So we humans have to be smart and stay smarter.  AI has been around for more than 50 years, but suddenly it’s stepping into the spotlight. 

But let’s not forget who built the machines.  We did.  You did.

Perhaps the machines, once they’ve learned to worry, need to worry about what we’ll build next – it may well put them out of a job!

The biggest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital.

This latest revolution has seen the commercial winners come from left of field.  Not the biggest, fattest corporations, but leaner and hungrier entrepreneurs with ideas and passion. 

So, welcome to the fourth industrial revolution.  The choice is ours.  The British are one of the most entrepreneurial and enterprising races.  My tip is we will embrace the disruption and go for it.

FTTH

Two years after Ofcom declared big changes aimed at up-rating download speeds and increasing accessibility Britain’s Fibre to the Home is still in the spotlight and I’m questioning where that broadband aspiration is now. 

Because, when you think about it, information: it’s one of the four pillars of economic development and, of course, information is power.

So it’s acknowledged that change is needed, and those in charge have pledged that it is on the way – but it isn’t rushing.   And when there’s no time to lose, that’s disturbing.

Ofcom insisted BT and Openreach split – which was absolutely the right move – but outcomes promised as a result of the split have been slow to be realised. 

There is talk of a wait of up to another two years to start to approach delivering speeds in step with a world economic power.

In the meantime the UK has again slipped down the fast-fibre league table, trailing some developing countries’ network performances and suffering the consequences.

We’ve just talked about the fourth revolution.  That will be borne on the back of fibre and energy. 

So the UK faces two threats here.  1. Its fibre network is still an aspiration, and 2. a power transmission network that isn’t up to scratch.

Britain’s creaking copper network continues to stand in the way of development and put obstacles in the way of businesses where speed is all.

If the powers that be don’t wake up and do something to shore up lost ground, we’ll be counting the cost for decades.

POWER LOSSES

Clean energy is hard won, so why is it we’re putting up with so much of it lost during transmission from offshore windfarms to land-based users.

Transmission is currently compromised by the prevalence of fake and older-generation cable that can’t hold their integrity over long spans – and there is another way.   Continued use of loss-generating old-technology cable for power transmission, when higher-performance new-breed solutions are already available, is unsustainable.  It costs too much to generate power to simply put up with the levels of wastage currently experienced when there is a better way, better technology – already here.

Lack of the right cables is slowing us down and leading to power losses and performance fails, an area where we, at Tratos, are also campaigning for change, through our Safer Structures initiative. 

Distribution of offshore clean energy is only as good as the industry’s ability to deliver it – without losses – to communities and businesses on land.

Now we are at the point where we can make a real and valuable contribution to secure distribution of the power generated – and look to it coming of age and competing with traditional energy sources.

The trick, of course, is to balance the cost of advanced cable technology with power lost and the gains from achieving a greater reach.  Supply routes stretching closer to central Europe, for example, mean greater exposure to loss for sea-based wind energy – unless it is transmitted across much faster and more secure cable.

OUTRO

The UK and Italy has always worked well together.  We share more than we think. 

Both countries have a wealth of clever and passionate innovators who take risks and build businesses – we just show it differently.

I am proud to be Italian and I’m proud to also be a citizen of Britain.  These are exciting and challenging times and both countries have one other thing in common. 

Change is coming.

Thank you.