Relocation – Westminster style

Simon Johnston, Chair of the Association of Relocation Professionals (ARP), shares some dramatic new developments. Discover how ARP is working to defend and promote the interests of employee relocation to Government decisionmakers, for the interests of the sector and the country.

When elected Chair of the Association of Relocation Professionals, I was committed to supporting the building of the sector’s profile in line with other industry goals so that our status enables us to deliver policy input to the areas that affect the industry. I’m excited to report that we’re doing that – and I’m enormously grateful to Relocate Magazine, and Fiona Murchie for giving the ARP the space to share the leap forward we’ve made in recent months to achieve these goals.The reason we’ve taken the initiative to reach out to the policymakers is simple. There’s never been a more challenging time for international business – not since employee relocation became a defined sector. That carries with it a risk and opportunity. The risk is that politicians don’t see the importance of getting the employee part of the economic restart going properly. We could end up with tax or travel rules that look good to cash strapped and Covid-scarred administrations, but which shackle our ability to ensure smooth, seamless human movement for all-important roles around the world.Added to this is the awareness of sustainability aspects and how to increase global mobility whilst supporting environmental impacts worldwide. The opportunity is that an intelligent input from relocation means we can inject financial awareness, relocation reality and best practice into the future of relocation strategies of Governments. Obviously, the ARP is focussing on the UK Government. This has implications for Governments across the entire Commonwealth, which often reapplies precedents set here for their own local arrangements.
Enter Lembit Öpik, the characterful former British Member of Parliament who has, for the last five years, been actively involved in helping relocation establish a credible presence in the halls of political power. Just as Relocation Magazine frequently drives the debate amongst those of us actively involved in relocation, so also Lembit is working to ensure the ARP is doing the same in Westminster.
Why does this matter? Because, whether we’re there, decisions will be made that affect us. It’s much better us to proactively shape those decisions, rather than reactively respond to them once they’ve been made. Let’s get specific. There are really four areas that matter here. In order of urgency, these relate to –
  • Covid-19 travel restrictions,
  • Post-Brexit arrangements,
  • The tax regime affecting relocation
  • The development of policies necessary to make the United Kingdom a key ‘go-to’ destination for companies around the world.
There’s a lot of work involved in building dialogue with those who define the direction of the policy areas that affect relocation.This is where Lembit’s experience comes in very useful. He served for 13 years in Parliament as an MP, including as a Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and as a national Party Leader in Wales. Lembit knows how to make serious input that is both valued by politicians and valuable for our industry. The need to be specific, outcomes focussed and economically relevant is obvious. How to do it is a little more subtle. That’s why we spend a great deal of time planning the way we approach those in office to ensure that meetings with, for example, people working on policy areas relating to visas or employment terms know why we meet them and how we can help.On tax, it’s incorrect that relocation, which is worth at least £5 billion per annum to the UK economy, and probably a lot more, is still labouring under the tax threshold set in place over a quarter of a century ago.That makes relocation tens of thousands of Pounds more expensive per employee in real terms than it was when the tax threshold and the factors behind it were set up. The ARP is making these points patiently and firmly. We’re proving that the cost of not keeping the costs up to date exceeds the benefit. In other words, updating thresholds reflecting 2021 prices for relocation would generate more revenue for the Treasury than the modest uprating of the thresholds themselves.All of this is very demanding work. There’s not much glamour in the day-to-day process of reaching out to the big players in Parliament. A lot of it is officer-to-officer, not Chair-to-Minister. That’s why Lembit’s perseverance is so productive. He’s got the staying power, and I’ve certainly got the motivation to push this forward.
We have other priceless assets instrumental to the effective operation of our newly formed All Party Parliamentary Group for Relocation. The Chair of this new group, Sir Robert Syms MP, leads a great team officers, all MPs, who actively support our work.What’s next? We are aiming for tangible and reportable progress on all the four areas of our strategy. This will lead to practical improvements to the financial calculation for relocating firms and those managing those moves. In addition, we aim to make some progress in the simplification of the visa system that supporting companies moving their top talent to the UK.Overall there are reasons to be positive around prospects of success in what we’re doing here. Working with Lembit is providing the perfect guide to UK Parliamentary process. Without this it’s like going into the jungle and expecting to find your way through using dead reckoning and good fortune. Neither of these are a great recipe for modern day Parliamentary interventions.You can find out more about our work by getting in touch with the ARP at - and we’re always pleased to receive input, advice and suggestions. We all win by getting this right – and so does the country.Simon Johnston is the Chair of the Association of Relocation Professionals, and CEO of Icon Relocation Ltd

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