CEO Update

Published: 7 December 2023

Innovation and Investment are a Boost to the UK’s Reputation

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Duncan Edwards
BritishAmerican Business

Congratulations to BAB member Virgin Atlantic on their historic flight VS100 to New York, the first transatlantic commercial flight powered by 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). There was a truly celebratory feeling at the Virgin Hotel in Manhattan on November 28th when Virgin Atlantic founder, Sir Richard Branson and CEO, Shai Weiss talked about the great challenge they had taken on. This challenge was set, and supported, by the UK government and Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, who was also on the flight, rightly talked about the UK’s leadership role in this new technology. The thing that struck me was the collaborative effort that was involved. Virgin Atlantic brought together a team including Boeing, RollsRoyce and BP (all BAB partner companies) and together they worked on the project with the UK government and the regulator to make the point that international flight using Sustainable Aviation Fuel is entirely possible. At BAB we marked the occasion with a White Paper setting out the background to, and challenges of, making SAF a viable economic proposition. The technology is not now in doubt, but the practical challenges of availability and affordability remain considerable. Given the importance of air travel to international business we will be watching this space very closely over the coming years. 

The same week, the UK set out its credentials for inward investment at the Global Investment Summit in the splendid surroundings of Hampton Court Palace. Announcements of major investments are part of the package for these events and amongst the most eye catching was the commitment from BAB member Microsoft to invest £2.5bn over the next three years into UK AI infrastructure. Of course, Microsoft had been a major participant in the UK’s AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park earlier in November and we had been delighted to host Microsoft President, Brad Smith and UK CEO, Clare Barclay at our Gala lunch on November 3rd with Ambassador Jane Hartley and UK Business and Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch. In a busy few weeks for our excellent policy team, we also put out our own paper on US-UK AI collaboration. 

Timed to coincide with the Investment Summit, Lord Harrington’s review of the UK’s competitiveness for Foreign Direct Investment was published with clear recommendations for a beefed up investment minister at cabinet backed by an organization that can offer a full concierge service to large overseas investors. BAB will provide our full analysis of the report in a few weeks, but our sense is that the report has the right ideas. The UK has strong natural and acquired advantages as a place to invest, especially for US firms, but there is no room for complacency. Countries like France, with its annual ‘Choose France’ schmooze fest at Versailles and Ireland with its low taxes and polished concierge service from the IDA, are hunting for business and the UK needs to respond. The government’s initial response is encouraging and we will monitor progress. 

The UK government deserves credit for its trade promotion policy of agreeing MoUs with individual US States.  The latest of these (here) was signed on November 14th by Governor DeSantis of Florida and Sec of State, Kemi Badenoch in Jacksonville.  In BAB’s White Paper on the MoUs published earlier this year we were fully supportive of this approach but hoped that it would include the States with the largest economies.  Florida is certainly one of these and we understand work is under way on similar agreements in California and Texas.  BAB will publish a summary of the 7 current agreements, and how companies can use them, in January. 

You may also be interested to see BAB’s report on the progress that has been made with the Atlantic Declaration. This ambitious document was signed by the President and Prime Minister with some fanfare in June with a long list of sensible objectives. We have committed to monitor progress and our first six monthly report is here.  Unsurprisingly, with unexpected events taking a lot of attention, most of the 16 concrete objectives seem to be still close to the starting line.  With elections in both countries in 2024, it may be smart to pick a selection of the most important issues and focus resources on these. 

As you can see, we have been busy with public policy work, representing the views of US and UK businesses on issues that can affect trade and investment, but we have also been busy in our other role, the contact sport of convening and networking! In addition to our Gala in London we held our annual Thanksgiving Reception at the iconic BT Tower and will have our Holiday event on December 12th. And in New York we held a reception for our Board Chair, Gavin Patterson at the British Residence and will celebrate the Holidays on December 8th at the wonderful Pierre Hotel. I hope I will have the chance to see many of our members during December but if I don’t, I wish you the best of all Holiday seasons and a peaceful and profitable New Year.