Thoughts & Insights

Why the UK needs a 'new deal' to bring divided country together after Brexit

Theresa May must follow the example of Franklin D Roosevelt to build an optimistic vision of a UK that truly works together

The new deal. One of the most ambitious programmes by a government in history, to rescue the US economy from one of its deepest recessions. A radical agenda at a moment of great national uncertainty. If ever the UK needed an equivalent, it’s now.

The principle of the New Deal was simple. As Franklin D Roosevelt, the then president and architect of the New Deal, told the American people: “We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.”

More than 80 years later, that phrase echoes in the words of Theresa May, who set out her stall in June to shape a country that “works for everyone”.

Political rhetoric for a new economic imperative. To thrive outside the EU, the UK needs to come together. No one left behind. Research that Grant Thornton undertook with the Centre for Economics and Business Research shows the possible benefit of this: untapped business potential could generate an additional £479 billion for the UK economy by 2025.

We know that article 50 will be triggered by the end of March 2017, but the long-term commercial landscape that will make up post-Brexit Britain is still unclear.

What is evident is that our society needs to be more cohesive, our economy more inclusive and our institutions more representative.

We need to stimulate ideas and actions that can create a truly vibrant economy that realises the shared potential of businesses, cities, people and communities across the UK.

Not just economic success, but an economy that has people and places at the heart of our thinking.

For a British new deal to make a difference, it needs to blend policies that pursue economic regeneration with positive social action. It must give rise to a system where everyone can aspire to build a great life. A new deal for a new Britain.

The Brexit vote was a stark reminder that millions of people across the country feel voiceless. The EU referendum result gave an indelible map of the areas in the UK that feel most disengaged.

This is overlaid with economic reality: research from the Fabian Society found that those in areas of relatively higher public spending were more likely to vote remain.

Bridging this great divide needs to be based on resolving regional funding inequalities, as well as pursuing a grand vision of the kind that Roosevelt gave to the American people: to build a great life.

We need to turn each of our major cities into the cogs around which growth, innovation and inclusion can turn. This starts with developing effective policies, bred out of local knowledge and expertise. Eschewing politicians and civil servants hidden away in Westminster and Whitehall, often naive to the world beyond the metropolitan bubble.

Outside the EU, the UK must claim a new place in the world – innovation Britain. But this will only be attained if diversity of thought can rise to the top.

It is time to wholly reject the tunnel vision approach that stubbornly lingers in certain British policymaking and business circles. Economic and social policy have to be married together, not just to spur innovation, but face down the UK’s complicated issues. Neither world can hope to go it alone.

The responses to the societal and economic divisions that the Brexit vote laid bare cannot rest solely on the shoulders of government. Instead, it calls for collaboration, where the private, public and third sectors work together. That means pooling resources, expertise and ideas, refusing to work in silos, defining key challenges and opportunities together and co-creating a blueprint for positive change.

That is why we have launched the Vibrant Economy Commission, a group of cross-sector leaders who will work with people and organisations across the UK to focus on the resolution of major issues, from health to housing, trust to trade and regulation to regional growth.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference on Sunday, May said “We know that the referendum was not a vote to turn in on ourselves, to cut ourselves off from the world.”

The confidence and optimism displayed by the prime minister for the UK’s future international role must be applied to domestic affairs.

So, let’s start at home and begin with those places that feel most detached from the rest of the country. Working in partnership to capitalise on the great things happening in the UK’s cities and communities, we can develop a Britain that better serves its people.

If we fail to act, disengagement will fester and the gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen.

A collision of ideas and ambitious collaboration that brings us together must be the guiding lights for Britain. Our future must be shaped by vibrant businesses, policymakers and civil society. Government should not and cannot be allowed to forge it alone.

It is an optimistic vision, but optimism is what we need. As we learned from the US, dreaming big makes for a bright future.

Norman Pickavance is the head of brand and culture at Grant Thornton and a former policy adviser

This is a re-purposed version of an article that first appeared in The Guardian