Why it’s time to get to grips with Brexit
Upstream boss Judith Totten says clear direction from Westminster and Stormont is now required
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