“Next year will be our opportunity to show what Global Britain can do, reasserting ourselves as a liberal free trading nation and a force for good in the world.”
So, we got there in the end: in the middle of the Christmas Eve carol service from King’s College Cambridge, and weeks after all the so-called deadlines had passed, the deal was done.
Boris and his team have done well to time their focus to match the EU’s negotiating style. Four and a half years after Dimbleby announced ‘we’re out’ – we’re out.
So, as we approach the turn of the year, let’s look forward with optimism. We have a trade deal, we have a vaccine, we have a new US president: there’s a lot to go for in 2021!
Britain starts its new-found freedom just as the silver linings are starting to appear. Unlike the Spanish flu pandemic, which lasted for over two years with a much higher extent of mortality, the new vaccines should induce ‘herd immunity’ at a much earlier stage so that we can all look forward to a return to normality. The chart below shows how much it's needed, particularly throughout the continent of Europe:
Liz Truss is busy concluding trade deals around the world, and our financial services have had ample time to position themselves to be ready for the break with Europe. When Rishi Sunak speaks of ‘making the City of London the most attractive place to list new companies’, I have every confidence that we can achieve that: especially if those new issue embrace personal investors and the retail investment industry.
Our biggest challenge in the year ahead is now to ensure that the Kingdom stays United, with Scottish Assembly elections due in May. Boris speaks of his top priority being to ‘level up’, but that must extend across the border to embrace both the north of England and Scotland. It will not be sufficient for the Westminster Parliament to block a second referendum: we must win hearts and minds, not by issuing threats as in 2014 but by ensuring opportunities for all, and particularly the young.
A year ago, this commentary described the challenge and opportunities of the Child Trust Fund. There are now approximately a quarter of a million young people who have turned 18 with these accounts, 18,000 of whom live in Scotland. The Share Foundation estimates that one third of these young adults are unaware of the existence of their accounts, let alone how to access them. This is an opportunity which is there for the taking.
The Share Foundation has been very active in waking up the Child Trust Fund scheme throughout 2020. A new search facility, https://findCTF.sharefound.org , has been established and, over the past three months, nearly ten thousand young people have accessed it in search of their account. The word has been getting out via social media, and NatWest have helped with funding to resource the search.
A new high-speed tracing process is being established to avoid the delays inherent in the ‘Subject Access Request’ paper-based system, and plans are afoot to establish a series of large-scale virtual meetings to help teenagers find their accounts, which are typically worth over £1,000.
Financial resources are part of the opportunity set, but it must include financial awareness. For disadvantaged young people, The Share Foundation finds that incentivised learning is particularly important, and there are plans afoot to make Share Radio’s ‘Managing My Money’ course available in this format - but this will require funding, of course.
Inter-generational rebalancing is the most important medium/long term levelling-up process, and it’s where we need to put a lot of focus as we move into the brave new world of international opportunities. Young people have had a raw deal over the past nine months, and now deserve all the attention we can give them.
As we move into 2021, let’s show that resolve in order to enable them to achieve their potential in a world transformed from the stagnation, plague and bigotry which have held us back over recent times.
With best wishes for a happy new year
Gavin Oldham OBE