There was a really interesting interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday morning (26thJune) with the ex-Head of Defense Staff, Lord (Nick) Houghton. The subject was the additional £2billion it is estimated the defence budget needs at the moment, in order for the UK’s defence position just to stand still.

Distilling Lord Houghton’s many sensible comments and useful insights the message he was giving us is that the government, in fact successive governments, have generally lacked focus. In fact he said as much, making the observation I have made previously in relation, specifically, to the Health Service, that too many people with vested interests (in particular government ministers looking for votes) have made promises to different pressure groups, that the NHS would deliver services it wasn’t and isn’t intended for.

As a UK tax payer I’m increasingly concerned that rather than fix the inefficiencies and waste perpetuated by government departments, we are being conditioned to accept the argument that if we want to maintain our current standard of living we are going to have to pay higher taxes. I’m not buying it. I believe someone should first fix the problems that create this waste before they impose tax hikes on us. In fact, there would probably be no need for a bail-out at all if the various government departments and service providers put their houses in order. What’s more, if they aren’t capable of doing so they should be forced to step aside so that someone else can.

Lord Houghton highlighted the UK isn’t clear what it wants to be. He, sensibly, suggested that the first step toward some kind of order on the defence front might be for the government to decide whether our objective is to be a world leader in defence or to do what we can within a set budget. This lack of clarity isn’t just a problem of the defence department, it’s common to numerous areas of government and rife within the world of commerce.

I see organisations every day that are wasting vast sums of money and masses of resource pursuing disparate ideals that fail to come together into any kind of cohesive strategy and, as the Noble Lord said, it’s a matter of focus. The world of business is currently wrapped up in business transformation. No business can avoid this, although many seem to think they can, yet 70% of business transformations fail and a large proportion of the businesses concerned go broke as a result.

The main reason for this failure, though camouflaged by loads of secondary issues, is undoubtedly lack of focus and I’ve been working with organisations around the world to address this by adopting a brand-led approach. There is no doubt that well-defined brands provide the focus necessary to reduce waste and speed up development. The problem is that even business leaders don’t understand brands or business transformation, so it’s hardly surprising that politicians, who by definition are rarely “of this world” don’t either.

Coincidentally, on BBC One’s Breakfast today Tim Ewell-Sutton – Assistant Director of The Health Foundation and GP and Author Dr Rangan Chatterjee were talking, in pretty much the same terms, about the tax rise that we are being set up for to fund the Health Service. The NHS isn’t clear what it is supposed to be doing. It’s badly managed, has no objective and different factions are pursuing different objectives, with the result that mountains of money and infinite resources are being wasted. I for one don’t want to pay more so that the people managing this fiasco can continue to be paid ridiculous salaries to get it wrong.

Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but there is a common theme here. The UK lacks a brand. We are not alone in this, but there are equally, many nations that have a far better defined identity that drives clearer objectives. I’ve said this many times, I’ve not had many people contradict me, yet our government just doesn’t get it. Maybe it’s time Westminster accepted their deficiencies and brought in some real experts to get the job done?

I was beating the “Brand Britain” drum a few years ago. Maybe it’s time to dust it off and strike up the rhythm again?

First published on LinkedIn June 2018

Phil Darby
August 3, 2018

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