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Strategy and Planning

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Q&A: Maurice Ostro OBE, Business Action Council

Maurice Ostro OBE, chairman of the Business Action Council, explains how a coalition of more than 20 organisations is presenting the government with clarity on what businesses need at this challenging time.

Last updated: 31 Jul 2020 4 min read

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What is the Business Action Council?

“The Business Action Council was created in March to deal with what was clearly an unprecedented economic crisis. When the prime minister returned from his convalescence after Covid-19, he wanted to get consensus from business on the way forward. We’ve been working collaboratively day in, day out – starting soon after the crisis occurred – and have come together to share perspectives, come to a consensus and provide the government with policy recommendations. That is quite remarkable. 

“It’s a huge amount of work, all of it voluntary, and all of it happening at pace. We recognised that only together do we have a real opportunity to deliver the impact that’s needed as quickly as it is required.”

What convinced organisations to get involved?

“Organisations recognised it would help the government to have clearer communication and greater consensus. The Business Action Council isn’t sitting in a silo somewhere; it’s sitting across multiple parts of government. While it’s sometimes hard to connect the dots, as a result of that collaborative spirit, things have been moving better than one would normally expect.”

How was it coordinated?

“I’ve always been a big believer in collaboration. One of my projects as a philanthropist was Collaboration House in London, where we co-located 15 charities working in a similar field. We also have a group called Faiths United, which includes 40 different faith leaders and organisations, which came together to share best practice, to collaborate and to engage on common projects. It’s part of my DNA. I look at every problem and ask: ‘How can we deal with things more effectively, not by siloed thinking but by connecting the dots?’”

“We recognised that only together do we have a real opportunity to deliver the impact that’s needed as quickly as it is required” Maurice Ostro OBE, chairman, Business Action Council

Were you surprised at how organisations collaborated to make it work?

“It doesn’t take a crisis to get collaboration but I will not deny that Covid-19 made a big difference with this group. They are really strained, they are busy. It’s possible that a lot of them are having financial pressures – they are membership organisations, primarily and asking businesses to pay fees in this environment is more challenging than ever. And to say we are going to voluntarily engage in something, at a time when we are under significant pressure, is not a trivial ask. 

“Part of it is their generosity of spirit from a civic perspective, recognising that alone it would be very hard to land the things they feel most passionate about. A consensus of business organisations has a universal, national, cross-industry approach, and that’s why they have taken the huge amount of time and effort required to bring that consensus together on multiple levels. They’re doing it and it’s wonderful.”

How have small businesses and entrepreneurs benefited?

“The BAC is not there to fight for corporates: they have the connectivity and influence within governmental circles that small businesses and entrepreneurs do not. There are nine working groups – and, whether it’s furlough or loans, we have provided input on all of the issues that are of primary importance to entrepreneurs. You have 27 major organisations saying the same thing, in a way that’s never happened in UK history. I believe that has influence on people when they look at a policy paper. 

“The BAC can be proud of its contribution to develop recommendations quickly, many of which have become government policy.” 

What are the opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs?

“We are planning for recovery now. That’s the advantage of having a wide spectrum of industries looking at this together. Not only are we looking at today, we are strategising about what we need to do to instil confidence in business owners, in their employees, and in consumers. Messaging is essential; without that confidence, we risk ending up in a very long period of economic stagnation. And we need to fight that and act quickly.” 

What have you learned through this challenging period?

“My father was a Holocaust survivor. I was brought up to react quickly in times of danger, and there’s been no more dangerous time in living memory for the livelihoods of people in this country and internationally. 

“I’ve been looking at what opportunities we can take to do good things. This is a time for people to rethink. My businesses flourished because they solved problems and reacted quickly to issues. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are like that: they see opportunities where others see just danger and risk. Hopefully, we can use this skill to do good things.” 

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Strategy and Planning