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ICSA: Pivoting our policy attention

23 August 2017 by Peter Swabey

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We have been considering our future areas of focus, says Peter Swabey.

After the excitement of the conference in July, I was hoping that we might have a summer of reflection, looking forward to activities in the coming year – but it has not quite worked out like that. Instead, we have been working hard on a variety of governance related consultations and initiatives.

On 7 August we published the latest FT–ICSA Boardroom Bellwether. You can read some of the highlights from this on page 58, but it was certainly an insightful survey of opinion, and gave us some interesting results.

The predictions for the business environment were salutary and attracted some publicity, but I was more interested in some of the responses around governance issues.

We are going through a lot of change at the moment and it was encouraging to see the degree to which firms are dealing with new requirements around, for example, the viability statement with little or no difficulty.

Similarly, 93% of respondents believe their companies will be ready to cope with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when it becomes effective from 25 May next year.

My events colleagues are running a special data governance conference on this subject on 3 November. This will examine the risks and opportunities of GDPR and, in particular, what boards should be looking at and how they can satisfy themselves that management have this issue under control. I commend this to you – particularly the 2% of Bellwether respondents who were unaware of the new requirements!

The policy team and I have been considering our areas of focus for the future. One of these will be GDPR and we will be publishing some guidance on this issue at the conference in November.

The government is also due to publish its response to the comments received on the Green Paper on corporate governance reform imminently – possibly even by the time you read this article. This, together with the Financial Reporting Council’s review of the UK Corporate Governance Code, will be at the centre of our attention over the coming months.

Another issue that seems unlikely to go away is that of executive pay, and we will be thinking about what can be done. As company secretaries, we have a key position in the room when decisions are being made on executive pay and so should be able to bring some insight to the debate.

In relation to this, I was also struck by some of the discussion around recent events in the news. In particular, we have seen some masterly news management in the press by the BBC over its reporting of pay, diverting the discussion from quantity to that of the gender pay gap.

Only last weekend I read about a premiership footballer complaining that he was ‘only’ being paid £65,000 per week. In terms of comparison with his peers he may have a point, but that works out at something like £3.5 million per annum before bonuses and there are quite a few FTSE CEOs who would cheerfully pocket that. Yet, interestingly, one is seen as more socially acceptable than the other.

Finally, our current constitutional proposals are covered on pages 14, 16 and 57 and I am not going to repeat that same information. However, we are in the middle of our series of member briefings on the changes.

It has been great to meet so many engaged members and to hear their views, both for and against the Council proposals, and I look forward to meeting more. Dates and venues of these sessions are available on the website.

Please do try to get to one of these sessions if you can. It is important that members vote on these changes to our constitution and even more so that they do so on a properly informed basis, rather than on the basis of what somebody else may have assumed to be the case on social media.

We are particularly keen to capture people’s issues with the UKRIAT proposition for implementing these changes – which Simon has set out in his article on page 14 – if members approve them. We have given considerable thought to the implications for UKRIAT members and students and believe that our proposition is a good one. However, we want to know if we have missed something important.

If you cannot make a briefing, but have views you would like to share, please let us know at changes@icsa.org.uk

Peter Swabey FCIS is policy and research director at ICSA: The Governance Institute

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