Why it’s time to get to grips with Brexit

Up­stream boss Ju­dith Tot­ten says clear di­rec­tion from West­min­ster and Stor­mont is now re­quired

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - By ju­dith tot­ten, Up­stream Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Ju­dith Tot­ten is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of fi­nance busi­ness Up­stream

Un­cer­tainty is an overused word at the mo­ment and there’s no doubt that this is a real chal­lenge. It’s what leads to peo­ple hold­ing back from mak­ing de­ci­sions — on things like in­vestme nt, capex and di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion.

We need to over­come that ob­sta­cle and get on with it. Up­stream’s ad­vice to clients has al­ways been to agree a plan and ex­e­cute it.

You might look back and wish you had done things dif­fer­ently — but at least you tried.

NI needs com­bined think­ing. If the ex­ec­u­tives at Stor­mont and West­min­ster could just work out their dif­fer­ences then busi­nesses, fun­ders, ad­vis­ers, in­vestors and the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion here can func­tion to­gether and col­lab­o­rate in an at­mos­phere of re­spect and trust. We can­not op­er­ate in a vac­uum with no lead­er­ship and no de­ci­sions on bud­gets and so forth.

Busi­ness has al­ways got on with it and is still step­ping up to fill the void, re­gard­less of what hap­pens “on the hill”, but this ex­tended log jam is ex­cep­tion­ally em­bar­rass­ing — glob­ally.

Com­pa­nies here have started to over­come their nat­u­ral con­ser­vatism re­gard­ing fi­nance. Mov­ing from one bank to four or five dif­fer­ent fun­ders has been a big step and it can be out­side of old com­fort zones.

But the ad­van­tages have far out­weighed any dis­com­forts. The cor­po­rate body has grown in so­phis­ti­ca­tion but the ad­vi­sory com­mu­nity prob­a­bly still has a way to go.

Some smaller ad­vi­sory firms are still stuck in the ‘go to the bank’ men­tal­ity. But even this is slowly chang­ing — Up­stream wouldn’t ex­ist if that evo­lu­tion wasn’t hap­pen­ing! But there are still more gaps to fill and a lot more ed­u­ca­tion to of­fer. There is room for still more in­vest­ment and more fund­ing.

Trade and sup­ply chain fi­nance is one area that I’d high­light as a real gap that Up­stream is ac­tively look­ing to fill this year.

That kind of proac­tiv­ity is so at­trac­tive to clients and their ad­vis­ers. The mes­sage is that there is flex­i­bil­ity and that so­lu­tions can be found to match the need.

Look­ing at Brexit from a busi­ness owner’s point of view, it might of­fer ‘cor­po­rate’ NI an op­por­tu­nity to try and in­flu­ence the Brexit roadmap in a way that ben­e­fits us.

Or, we can just be very com­pli­ant and fol­low suit with what West­min­ster de­cides is best for the UK as a whole. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing that would be tai­lored to North­ern Ire­land? If achiev­able, it could bring a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Brexit, in some ways, is an un­for­tu­nate dis­trac­tion. But is there any­one out there who is hon­estly cer­tain about ev­ery­thing else ex­cept Brexit? Is busi­ness not all about man­ag­ing un­cer­tainty? The mar­ket will adapt and if we can’t over­come Brexit, there is some­thing wrong.

And too much spec­u­la­tion re­ally isn’t good for us. NI is an easy sell in terms of cost of liv­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and so on — so let’s get sell­ing it.

There are un­doubted prac­ti­cal is­sues for us in NI.

A hard bor­der will im­pact greatly on busi­ness and the free­dom of move­ment of peo­ple. Cur­rency volatil­ity and the abil­ity to ex­port with con­fi­dence are all hot top­ics — but again, it is the ‘not know­ing’ which is re­ally the big­gest chal­lenge.

Clear di­rec­tion from West­min­ster and Stor­mont is re­quired and then we need to get on with it.

The world’s me­dia spot­light was firmly fixed on US District Judge Wil­liam Martinez last month, as he presided over an ex­tremely public le­gal bat­tle be­tween pop star Tay­lor Swift and the Den­ver ra­dio pre­sen­ter Robert Mueller.

The dis­pute be­tween the par­ties cen­tred on an al­leged grop­ing in­ci­dent at a pre-con­cert event in Den­ver in 2013 which re­sulted in the ra­dio DJ’S dis­missal by his em­ployer. Mueller sued for ‘ tor­tious in­ter­fer­ence’ with his em­ploy­ment con­tract, claim­ing that the pop star had set out to get him fired and that her al­le­ga­tions had cost him his rep­u­ta­tion and his job. Swift counter-sued for a no­tional $1 for as­sault and bat­tery.

The US judge dis­missed Mueller’s case, find­ing no ev­i­dence that the pop star’s com­plaint was in­sin­cere. Three days later a jury up­held Swift’s counter-claim.

What is a cau­tion­ary tale in­volv­ing very public and very dam­ag­ing law­suits also of­fers a clear re­minder for em­ploy­ers on this side of the At­lantic of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties when con­fronted with a com­plaint of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment is de­fined in North­ern Ire­land as un­wanted con­duct re­lated to the sex of the vic­tim which vi­o­lates his or her dig­nity, or cre­ates an in­tim­i­dat­ing, hos­tile, de­grad­ing, hu­mil­i­at­ing or of­fen­sive en­vi­ron­ment. Such con­duct can be ver­bal, non-ver­bal or phys­i­cal.

Once an em­ployer re­ceives a com­plaint of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, they should im­me­di­ately act to en­sure a fair and ef­fec­tive pro­ce­dure is fol­lowed. It is im­por­tant to find out if the af­fected em­ployee wants their com­plaint to be treated for­mally.

If their com­plaint is se­ri­ous, it may re­quire for­mal treat­ment re­gard­less. The em­ployer should act quickly to in­ves­ti­gate the com­plaint, and gather any rel­e­vant ev­i­dence such as wit­ness state­ments, phone records or chat his­to­ries.

Due to the sen­si­tive na­ture of such com­plaints, the em­ployer should care­fully con­sider who will con­duct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the level of con­fi­den­tial­ity re­quired and the need to sus­pend the al­leged ag­gres­sor. Cer­tainly, the em­ployer should act quickly to pre­vent fur­ther con­fronta­tions, ha­rass­ment or bad blood aris­ing dur­ing the process.

Fol­low­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the em­ployer should care­fully con­sider if their dis­ci­plinary pol­icy is en­gaged.

It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that a tri­bunal will be in­ter­ested not only in the pur­pose of un­wanted con­duct but its ef­fect. A joke, com­ment or be­hav­iour which one em­ployee be­lieves is harm­less may still con­sti­tute sex­ual ha­rass­ment be­cause of its ef­fect on its re­cip­i­ent.

Whilst high pro­file court­room bat­tles can be en­ter­tain­ing, they are al­ways costly.

The re­al­ity is that in most cases of work­place sex­ual mis­con­duct, an em­ployee should not have to look past their em­ployer for a fair hearing and should al­ways feel able to com­plain.

In such sen­si­tive and po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing cases, em­ploy­ers should care­fully ap­ply their poli­cies on ha­rass­ment, con­duct, griev­ances and dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, and con­sider the need for pro­fes­sional le­gal ad­vice.

Whether a com­plaint is up­held or not, it should never just be shaken off.

Ju­dith Tot­ten, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, and Alan Ward­low, head of new busi­ness at Up­stream

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