World Environment Day 2023 (5 June) celebrating its 50th year turned its attention to one of the largest pollutants in the world, plastic.
Within the last decade, plastic production has increased rapidly, amounting to roughly 400 million tonnes per year, a figure which is foreseen to double by 2040 . Researchers estimate that 12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year. These figures alone are shocking, not helped by the current turbulent social and economic backdrop globally, and pushback against ESG regulation proposals (particularly in the US).
However, through the actions of the United Nations, the tide might finally be turning on plastic pollution.
In March 2022, at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee set out a historic resolution to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement due by 2024, of which all 193 UN member states have signed in favour for.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report ahead of the second round of negotiations in Paris (29 May – 2 June). It set out the roadmap for solutions to beating plastic pollution and creating a circular economy, highlighting the need for governments, companies, and markets to come together to create deep rooted policy and regulation.
The roadmap has three simple, yet key targets needed to make the shift towards a circular economy.
Alongside the prospect of a renewed, thriving ecosystem, there is also a significant economic and societal opportunity. The roadmap proposes that by 2040, industries could save up to $1.3 trillion; currently a staggering $2.2 trillion goes towards virgin plastic production. Also supporting societal needs, it is projected that there will be 12 million new jobs, as a circular economy requires a larger human workforce, compared to the current linear economy.
Emma Taylor is Account Executive at Quill PR
Photo by tanvi sharma on Unsplash
A job in PR: I’ve been working at Quill PR for just over six months as an Account Executive – not where I would have imagined myself a year ago. I finished a degree in Fashion Branding and Communication at Birmingham City University in July 2022, the tail-end of the pandemic, when the continuous lockdowns and uncertainty left me searching for inspiration as to what to do in my post-graduate life. My course had touched on the topic of PR, and even though it was in the context of fashion, I knew a career in PR could be an interesting one; so, when the opportunity to work at Quill came up, I took it.
Not only am I new to the corporate world, but also to financial services, so I’ve to learn about the inner workings of a successful business, and about a completely new sector. My anxieties about this have eased over time as I’m surrounded by a team of experts always open to answering my basic questions and to guide me in the right direction. My first week in the office coincided with the announcement of Liz Truss’ Autumn mini budget- showing me just how quickly the markets can become volatile, seeing the full impact of macro events on the economy (something I hadn’t thought much about before).
What am I enjoying – or not enjoying?
Meeting and getting to know the clients and journalists that we work with has been a positive experience; all I’ve met so far have been lovely, and very welcoming (and patient while I’m still learning the ropes!). I’ve also enjoyed attending client events, my favourite being an F1 arcade session! It was a great opportunity to meet journalists and fund managers in a more relaxed environment.
However, meeting lots of new people in a relatively short time frame has been quite overwhelming for me; as someone who is naturally reserved, I’ve found it difficult to talk to new people. While it’s been a struggle with my confidence, I know that it will be something that I will get comfortable with over time.
Is it what I expected?
Honestly, I didn’t know all the role would entail, aside from fulfilling the admin, social media, and reporting duties. It’s been great to handle things like press enquiries and be trusted to carry them out for clients and having the support of the team if I need help or reassurance. From the start I’ve been able to be hands on, going to meetings to observe and learn about our clients and building relationships with journalists.
Is financial services fun?
Yes! I’ve never doubted that it was before I joined, but I was always slightly daunted by how vast and complicated the industry seemed. Even though there are still a lot of things that I haven’t got my head around, I feel more confident with my finance knowledge. I’m looking to doing a basic training course on financial services so I can better my understanding, and make my job somewhat easier!
What have I learnt?
You need to be organised in PR, as you can get requests in at any time, from the team, journalists, or clients. You need to be flexible when prioritising workload depending on incoming deadlines; when a client wanted a last-minute report for the following day, being flexible with my priorities at that time was crucial.
Write everything down; so many things can be happening at once, you can’t remember everything! So, key notes when meeting with a journalist, taking minutes during a client meeting, and any information about clients.
To really engage with clients and journalists – remembering a favourite restaurant when arranging a meeting and information about themselves; it’s all about building relationships and trust.
I’m excited to continue my career with Quill – the continued support from the team has helped my transition into a job in PR to be a very comfortable and secure one.
Much has been reported in recent months of companies de-listing from the London Stock Exchange and de-camping to the US for better valuations of their businesses. And yet the UK has its champions and investors should perhaps consider the positives and buy more British.
One advantage for UK investors is that companies remaining listed in London are seen as cheap – and these are not companies which are doing badly – it is just that they are often under appreciated.
Alec Cutler, portfolio manager and head of multi-asset at Orbis Investments (pictured) says: “UK names keep popping up as being super cheap. We find that they’re good companies, they might need a tweak here or there, but they’re fantastic yet selling at very cheap prices. So they offer high dividend yields, high free cash flow yields, very solid book, and cheap book values.”
Examples, he highlights are Headlam, energy players Hunting, Drax and Balfour Beatty, the latter he says “one of the best positioned construction companies in the world, selling at a double-digit free cash flow yield, eight times earnings.
“The reason these companies are cheap is because of changes to pension reform in the UK. UK pension holdings in UK equities went from approximately 50% around 1997 to 4% today, a massive outflow of money. And the current prices reflect the fact that investors around the world just don’t know these names as well as they should, and as well as we think they will.”
Examples of a company which wants to forgo its London listing and one which might like to list here, are Okyo Pharma and Coinbase, respectively.
Gabriele Cerrone, founder and chairman of biotechnology company Okyo Pharma, which specialises in eye disease treatment, is taking his company out of the UK and his issue is not so much valuation as appreciation. Quoted in the Daily Mail he says UK investors are only interested in mining and oil giants – “What I learnt about trying to create a niche biotech company in the UK is that it is like trying to grow plants in the desert. It has been a complete waste of time and we never raised money from investment banks. There’s no biotech culture nor any liquidity in the United Kingdom at all.”
In its Notice of Intention to delist from the London Stock Exchange, Okyo said: ‘The Company has decided to request the voluntary cancellation of listing as the volume of trading of the Ordinary Shares on the Main Market is negligible and does not justify the associated costs.’
Meanwhile crypto exchange Coinbase may not be averse to the idea of a London listing given dissatisfaction with the clarity of crypto regulation in the US.
Brian Armstrong, co-founder and chief executive officer of Coinbase told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, when asked if he would have considered listing on the LSE rather than New York: “We started in the US so it was natural for us to list there but honestly given the UK has recently actually been quite positive on crypto, in a different world going back we may have considered it, to be honest at this point. I do think the US risks falling a little bit behind here if some of the regulators don’t engage further with the industry and create that clear regulatory environment that will remove some of these clouds.”
Then we have statistics from The Insolvency Service showing that the number of corporate insolvencies was 16% higher in March than in the same month last year. Yes, there is a cost of living crisis but when we do spend and where are we spending? Not on these businesses, it seems.
One has to consider where, as investors we are focusing. Who does crypto currency investing benefit and who benefits from biotech investing? No one is suggesting one invests in the latter for philanthropic reasons alone – there are returns to be made after all. But is investing in something that can’t be seen, rather than in something that develops treatment for inflammatory eye diseases, somewhat myopic.
Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR
There has been much focus, not least in the recent Budget, on older people (sorry to those over age 50 but that’s where the definition starts) returning to the workplace.
Workers over 50 who have left the workplace have done so for a variety of reasons; the lucky ones because they can afford to and the unlucky ones because they are ill or incapacitated.
And there are those who lost jobs and have found it difficult to find employment because of their age. Arguably, the latter category is the one that most needs addressing because there you have willing workers thwarted by a biased and intransigent attitude from employers.
It remains to be seen whether the Chancellor’s magnanimous gesture in abolishing the lifetime pension allowance to remove the tax hurdle for consultants staying in the NHS encourages any who have left to return.
For the sake of the economy, it might be an idea to focus on other early retirees and those who really can’t afford not to be working.
Catherine Mann, policymaker at the Bank of England in an interview on Blomberg TV warned that she is worried about whether the UK economy can grow without sparking inflation, a legacy of Britain’s decision to exit the European Union and thousands of people over age 50 dropping out of the labour market since the pandemic.
Quoted also in The Times Mann said: “I worry that a couple of years down the line, we’re going to see people trying to come back into the labour force, and that’s going to be much more difficult.
“I worry about the supply side of the UK economy. It really is striking how slow growth is in the UK -much slower than what we observed for the US or for the euro area. Brexit is a factor on the supply side and on pricing power.”
The Government acknowledges, in its Spring Budget statement, that the falling participation in the workplace is a key economic challenge. It has mapped out how it hopes to tackle those who are ill, those perhaps disabled and who are concerned they may lose essential benefits and those who are ‘inactive’, whether they have chosen to be or not.
It remains the common case however that whatever the acknowledgement of the issue and whatever carrots and initiatives are thrown at the problem the employer elephant in the room is the one who doesn’t want to employ older workers.
The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) says that of more than 1,000 managers working in UK businesses and public services surveyed, just 42% would be open to hiring people aged between 50 and 64 to a large extent. For workers over 65, only 3 in 10 were open to hiring and 1 in 5 said their organisation was not open to the idea of hiring those over 65 at all.
So, time to tackle the disconnect between those in the ‘third age’ who want to work and employer perception. After all, fit and healthy people in their 60s may well live for another 30 plus years – that’s a lot of knowledgeable human capital to write off.
There is also age discrimination legislation – let’s employ that more as well.
Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR
Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash
Mental health has routinely struggled to gain the consideration it deserves and since 2020, the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation for people of all ages, in schools, colleges and in the workplace.
When writing on the economy many national newspapers are claiming the phrase ‘winter of discontent’ and there are parallels to when the phrase was used to describe the winter of 1978/79 when the UK was beset by cold weather and striking workers. And here we are this winter facing – well, slightly warmer weather than we have had – but still strikes and threatened strikes.
It seems especially cruel that these strikes, these grievances on the part of many workers – some financial, some practical in how lack of resources impact on how they can do their jobs – has forced them to, in turn, impact the first Christmas and New Year when we should have been free to travel and associate, after the restrictions of the pandemic.
It is well accepted that COVID-19 had an impact on the mental health of many. One might hope as we steer a course away from the worst ravages of the pandemic (notwithstanding those with long-COVID symptoms and grieving the loss of loved ones) that some equilibrium will return in how we work and how we play.
While a pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and a war in Europe may all have meant many folk have found themselves struggling, there have always been mental health problems for individuals – at home and in the workplace and for myriad other reasons.
For employers, mental well-being in the workplace is being talked about more. The inference of course is that ‘mental health’ is a problem and that running alongside it is ‘mental healthy’. This, ie, the acknowledgement of mental health problems is a good thing but that doesn’t mean it is easy to recognise or deal with it. The business cost of poor mental health amongst employees is increasing and in 2022 the cost for UK employers rose to £56 billion, according to Deloitte.
So without putting it down to a financial cost issue alone (although if it works to get it addressed, so be it) it needs to be recognised that ‘mental health problems are no longer ones we pretend do not exist or are conditions to be ashamed of or scared of. They are to be talked about.
For the employer there has to be a discussion of what resources to put in place for employees. Most employers with human resources departments will have these covered, which is not to say it is easy for the average line manager to spot a team member struggling – or even for that team member to.
There are many sources of advice from charities and employer/employee institutions.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has much to offer on wellbeing at work and understanding ‘the links between work, health and wellbeing, and the role of stakeholders in adopting an organisational approach to employee wellbeing.
And the Health and Safety Executive in its Management Standards highlights key areas of work design ‘that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates’:
The HSE also provides guidance for employees in how to look after themselves at work.
‘Our research confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers,’ says the charity Mind.
Often, Shakespeare is misquoted out of context. But when he had Richard II speaking of “the winter of our discontent” – the follow through was that it was “made glorious summer” (by an end to war). The time ahead was (broadly) looking good.
May we wassail and hope for that end to war – and to all battles – and as a country and as individuals ensure there is support and contentment for all.
Sarah Gibbons-Cook is director and Stephanie Spicer, head of content at Quill
Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash