Brexit, Business and Booze

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

Interviewing former Trade Minister, Lord Price.  Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing five experts about the on-going British drama ‘Brexit’. I was in London for the annual conference of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) – a body that represents a £50 billion industry. Members are currently unimpressed with the government’s Brexit strategy – particularly the continual in-fighting. And when your business is all about imports and exports, you can see why leaving the world’s largest trading bloc might be cause for concern.

My first guest was the former head of Waitrose, Lord Price. He’d left his thirty year career with the John Lewis Partnership to become a government Trade Minister. But a few days before the conference, Lord Price quit government. It’s clear he is no fan of Brexit, and thinks that those who voted for it will be left disappointed. But having travelled the globe for 15 months as trade minister, he is certain the UK will eventually thrive. It’s just the time it will take to get to that point that’s the problem. Here’s the Guardian’s take on our interview.

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

I must also add what a delightful man Lord Price is. He’s written a book called ‘Fairness for All’ in which he demands a fairer kind of capitalism and seeks to explain why Brexit happened and Trump was elected. He also hammers home the importance of happiness at work, and says that’s the key to increasing productivity and therefore profits. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his book and feel a few bosses might also benefit!

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

Interviewing Wetherspoon boss, Tim Martin. Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

Next up was Tim Martin, the millionaire founder of the British pub chain, Wetherspoon. Mr Martin is an ardent Brexiteer and contrary to the views of most of his audience, is in no doubt that the UK’s vote to leave the EU will be good for Britain. Although he had 200,000 pro-Brexit beer mats printed in the run up to the EU referendum, he is by no means anti migration. Given that one in 10 of his own staff comes from outside the UK, he knows how hard it can be to find workers. What Mr Martin says he feels passionately about is democracy and reclaiming ‘British sovereignty’. He dislikes the European Union to such an extent that he doesn’t think it matters whether or not the UK and EU secure a Free Trade Agreement post Brexit. (And yes, I did point out that would mean wine from the EU becoming more expensive, not to mention non-tariff barriers like customs delays.)

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

From L to R: Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Tim Martin, me & Sir Simon Fraser. Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

You can imagine the response that got from my next two guests, both of whom have worked in Brussels. Until 2015, Sir Simon Fraser was head of the British Foreign Office and is now managing partner of the business advisory, Flint Global. He was joined by the international lawyer, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez who advises clients on EU trade law policy and Brexit. Both are convinced that the UK will suffer economically post Brexit and believe the country must have in place some kind of transition period to soften the blow. Of course Tim Martin disagreed with almost everything they said. It made for a challenging, interesting and at times, entertaining discussion.  It’s a serious and extremely complex subject. But at least afterwards we could enjoy a glass of (English) wine or a (British) gin and tonic.

 

Berlin: Taking the Baby to Work

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My office for the day

Last week I attended a workshop in Berlin aimed at getting women who are on maternity leave back into work. It was held at one of the city’s popular coworking spaces. But this one has a unique selling point – at Easy Busy Space you can bring your baby to work.

While parents are working in an open plan office, in the next door room their babies or toddlers are being looked after by child minders. I am currently writing this from that office with Cecelia, now 10 months old, being entertained next door. (I know she’s fine because I’ve had a quick look through the door window.)

It’s costing me 12 Euros for half a day’s office space (and gets cheaper the more you use it) and 20 Euros for three hours of childcare. The owners of this space are hoping to extend the hours of childcare they offer.

It seems such an obvious and practical idea. And yet I have never heard of it before. A quick internet search brings up a handful in the UK. But what a shame it’s not more common. Wouldn’t it revolutionise the working lives of so many parents, particularly mums? Think of the impact it could have in the UK where many women quit work altogether, partly because of the high costs of childcare. (That was one of the reasons why we decided to move from London to Copenhagen back in 2013.)

As I am in the process of setting up my business in Berlin, this morning’s three hours of pure concentration were bliss. And look what I found when my morning was over – my beautiful, sleeping baby.

Cece asleep

Please note that I was not paid for this post, nor did I receive any discount.

Copenhagen: Free Ice cream Day!

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Queuing round the block in Hellerup, Copenhagen

Did you queue? Because if you did, you must have met most of Copenhagen outside the ice cream shop today.

The Danish ice cream chain, Paradis, opened for business this weekend. And to mark the end of winter – yes I know it’s still February – it was giving its ices away for free. What a brilliant brand campaign.

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If you’ve spent any time in Denmark you’ll know just how much Danes love their ice cream. And having tasted what’s on offer here, I have to say I’m with them. Any flavour you want, including of course, liquorice, you can have.

So even though Danes HATE queuing, they’ll do it for ice cream, from now until the end of the summer. They won’t be free, but if you haven’t yet tried one, you must!

Embrace us Denmark!

Photographer Hans Søndergård

Speaking at the DI Business conference. Photographer: Hans Søndergård

At times it’s awkward being a foreigner in Denmark. And although many people aspire to live here, there is an anti-immigrant rhertoric. Yes, I’m from the UK where we too have a debate going on about immigration. But the language used in Denmark, often by politicians, can at times appear pretty xenophobic.

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Danish PM, Helle Thorning-Schmidt

On Tuesday the Confederation of Danish Industry, DI, held its annual conference. It was a big event and had some impressive speakers including Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the new Finnish PM Alexander Stubb (who stole the show), former Italian PM, Mario Monti and a host of others – including me.

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Finnish PM Alexander Stubbs

Several months ago DI decided the AGM would focus on how to make Denmark more attractive and friendly towards foreigners. That was a pretty brave move when you realise that even mainstream politicians talk openly about ‘us’ and ‘them’.

The leader of the opposition, Lars Lokke Rasmussen from Venstre, was on stage talking about the issue of ‘social dumping’ and ‘welfare tourism’. He talked openly about closing the door to people the Danes don’t want. The party has already discussed an immigration policy based on religion – yes to Christians and no to Muslims.

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DI asked Danes to treat foreigners better and to think of ways to attract more high-skilled workers. There was a call to cut the administrative red tape for foreigners along with more help with understanding tax, schools and housing. There was agreement reached by both the PM and Rasmussen that more affordable international schools will be built (there is a big shortage in Denmark).

When I was on stage with two fellow foreign journalists we also discussed our experiences of Danish life. On the one hand there’s a great work-life balance. But on the other, it can feel hard to fit in (and I know language is an obvious barrier). But I was very impressed with just how welcoming people involved with DI were. I do now feel that Danes – even politicians – are listening. And that can only be a good thing.

And you can watch all the speeches and discussion from the DI conference by clicking here. It includes the Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubbs, who really is worth a watch.