BBC Radio Interview with Lembit Opik and Simon Johnston, CEO Icon Relocation
BBC Radio Kent
L: Good afternoon to you. We are trying to keep up to date with a number of different categories of individuals and organisations as the corona virus pandemic continues to effect our lives in quite a profound way. Coming up next, let’s talk to someone who runs a medium sized business in the area. We’ve talked with him before; I’ll ask him to update us on what his business does and how it’s been effecting it. It’s Simon Johnston, chief excuter officer of Icon Relocation. Good afternoon Simon
S: Good afternoon Lembit, how are you?
L: I’m okay, bigger question though is how is your business?
S: Still struggling is the answer. It’s been, as I’m sure for many different companies, a difficult few months and for us we are obviously dependent on the free movement of people to allow people to relocate within the UK or globally into the UK to help business grow and develop and that’s the one thing that’s not happening. So we are still finding this a very difficult period.
L: So you still haven’t been able to start moving people from A to B which I guess is at the heart of your business
S: Yes, so just for clarity, we are a corporate relocation company so what we do is we actually help companies bring their top talent into the UK for companies that want to invest in the UK, weather you want to open up a business in the UK or expand a business in the UK we will help with that by bring in their very top talent into the country, or anywhere in the world for that matter, and actually help them with housing, removals, settling them in, children’s schooling, absolutely everything to make them a highly productive efficient person and welcome them to the UK. Now for that to happen, this is a key part of any major international corporation we need at least a reasonable free movement of people to be able to achieve that. And while things have approved you could say in different aspects, from our point of view and the business’s point of view it is still being extremely difficult and business levels haven’t, in any meaningful way, improved.
L: Have you got any help from government? We were talking about you reaching out to the authorities and pointing out that your business effects billions of pounds of turnover in this country.
S: Yes, so just to go back on that, it’s quite interesting. When I first spoke to you we did a survey on the size of the relocation business and relocation companies and we said it was about one and a half billion pounds to the UK economy, but in the last few weeks, as I am also the chair of the Association of Relocation Professionals (ARP) which is the governing body of relocation companies in the UK, and we’ve looked at the impact we have on the economy of slightly wider, the services we buy and book, and we’ve actually realised that we’re actually worth around six billion pounds to the UK economy. So, we are a substantial but invisible part of the UK economy making a massive difference. So, we have written to our MP’s, we have written to the chancellor asking for just recognition that this is an industry that is actually vital. Especially post Covid-19, especially post Brexit, whatever your views on that are, we need to make sure that the UK is a welcome place to come and we can help people come here if they want to invest and grow. At the moment we’ve had very little back from the government outside of what is publicly known.
L: And why is that? If you are so important, I assumed that they would actually be taking it very seriously when organisations such as yours are reaching out because we keep being told that the government is there to help business at this difficult time.
S: I think from a government point of view they are helping businesses but what the biggest problem is, and this is where I am very grateful for you and this opportunity is to highlight this is an industry that is not high profile. It is one of these invisible, oil of a machine type industries but it is worth, as I said, about 6 billion to the economy. It is phenomenally important, employs 8-9 thousand people directly, considerably more indirectly. So, the government, we are trying to get them to recognise that we are as a group we may be a lot of small independent companies, but the impact we have is substantial. So, we are trying to do everything we can to increase our profile. Just to answer the recognition, to actually recognise that there are a few small but meaningful things that the government can do that would make a huge difference and save a huge number of people’s jobs as well.
L: And what’s your next step as an individual because you do occupy some fairly substantial roles in the sector, don’t you?
S: I do. I am very lucky to not only run my own business but I am also the chairman of the ARP, Association of Relocation Professionals, which as mention the UK governing body but I am also the chairman of TIRA which is the world largest network of independently owned relocation companies in the world. So, I actually support and help with the overall industry development of about thirty, forty different companies scatter gunned around the world giving us the biggest network there is as far as this industry is concerned. So, I am heavily involved in that too and the issue here is that, as I repeated, is that unfortunately the government is not recongnising us fully as an industry, not recognizing our importance, the amount of people we employ, the value we bring. So, we are in the process of re writing back to our MP’s, we’re going to write back to the chancellor, we’re going to ask them to just recognise where we’re coming from. We’re not asking for anything unreasonable, we’re just asking for recognition and the value we’re going to bring. So if people want investment in the country for the years to come, we are the invisible bit that allows that to happen.
L: And this quarantine finally, which they’re talking about for the United Kingdom. Some say rather late in the day considering we have been dealing with corona virus for many months. That’s not going to help is it?
S: It’s not our friend no. It’s, I don’t want to make any political comment, I’m a bit puzzled as to why this is coming in now but that is just a personal view point. But no, my view is that it’s not particularly helpful. If you were an international person looking to come to the UK and work in the UK and invest in the UK, being told that you have to have 14 days to stay in a property isn’t going to encourage you to come. So while I appreciate that there are values behind it and I appreciate were we are coming from, I would suggest that there are probably alternative ways that we could address this and actually help people relocate and help the economy wake up again.