Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Intervallum Limited featured in the Chamber of Commerce 'Weekly Update' on 'How an Interim Finance Director can add value to your business'

Intervallum is a provider of Interim Finance Director services, working at the sharp end of industry by acting as the FD on the clients own site, normally 5 days a week (although this is flexible and client led). One thing we are not is a recruitment agency for FDs. I have been providing these interim services for almost 11 years now, focussing on the SME environment (from start-up businesses to £300m turnover) and working anywhere in the UK as required. As principal of this business, I have a track record of working within Finance departments since 1983, a directly employed Finance Director since 1996, and in an interim capacity since the beginning of 2004. I am a Fellow of CIMA (and their West Midlands’ Chairman), the IOD's 25th Chartered Director, a Chartered Manager and have an MBA from Edinburgh Business School. As an Interim FD service provider. Intervallum offers fast and flexible solutions to our clients.

What exactly is an Interim Finance Director?
Many business people are not totally clear on exactly what an Interim Finance Director is, when you would need an Interim FD and how an Interim Finance Director can add value to your business. An Interim Finance Director is a highly experienced and qualified professional who would parachute in to your business to act as your FD, working through their own Limited Company and with PI insurance in place, to assist you at short notice with a number of issues (and be able to add value to your business almost immediately)

When would you need the services of an Interim FD?
This can vary from client to client, but the 3 main requirements are:-

1. A safe pair of hands - when a company's permanent FD resigns, he can often be gone within a month. The search and selection process, interviewing routines and successors notice period can on average, be a 5 to 9 m month period. An interim FD can quickly enter this company at the point of original resignation to spend almost a month with the outgoing FD to quickly understand his knowledge and experience of the business in order that projects can continue and that the valuable company knowledge from the original FD can be kept warm and the baton can be effectively handed over to the incoming permanent FD. In circumstances where the incumbent FD is removed at short notice, an Interim FD can pick things up from day one to ensure that there is no immediate danger to the business.

2. Turnaround situations and cash issues - as the credit crunch took hold, and the economy tanked, several businesses found themselves reducing in activity levels and strangulated by a lack of cash. Several Private Equity companies moved from potential outward investment to an inward look at their portfolio of businesses, as some of these came under pressure - which was exasperated by the debt funding that had to be serviced. Therefore I have been called into such businesses in a “dash for cash“ scenario to meet loan repayments, followed by a restructuring and cost cutting exercise (and in most cases a refocus on strategy) in order to turn the company around and allowing them to continue as a going concern.

3. The owners of the business want to sell their company and therefore need a financial professional to get their business in order, assist with the preparation of the sales memorandum, take the company through the due diligence process and then assist in the negotiations to achieve a satisfactory deal and take it to legal conclusion. In 2005 I sold a Telecoms business to Lord Young for £21m, and on 3rd April 2008 (just hours before Capital Gains Tax rule change) I helped a £200m t/o construction business to go through a £154m secondary buyout, assisting the 6 owner/directors to become multi-millionaires. In 2014 I led an Engineering business through a sizeable secondary MBO that created an Employee Benefit Trust in the post transaction company.

How can an Interim Finance Director add value to your business?
The fact that the company is maintained as a going concern after the extreme scenario of a turnaround means there is still value of some description for the business owners (and employees and creditors for that matter) as compared to a total wipe-out and liquidation. Successful negotiations with the crown by an interim can effect a time to pay arrangement and give valuable breathing space to get cash in. A good Interim FD will quickly get a grip on the cash management, effecting a daily cash report and forecast to highlight any future pinch points and navigate the business around the rocks.

Once the position is stabilised, the financial process and systems will be reviewed and “best in sector“ solutions will be applied i.e. to ensure the most efficient collection of cash. Weekly flash reports will be quickly introduced in order that the senior management team have a view of the 5 or 6 key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow them to see if their actions are having a positive or negative affect (without having to wait several weeks for a set of Management Accounts to be produced). A graphical dashboard will accompany the monthly reporting in order that non-Finance professionals in the senior team can quickly see the trends across the various parts of the business and allow incisive decisions to be made. During this time, the strategy of the business will be reviewed and refined to ensure a successful course is plotted and executed.

In a sale situation, an experienced Interim FD can quickly prepare the necessary financial reports to support the sales memorandum, oversee the due diligence process and resulting negotiations, and ensure that the best price has been attained at deal conclusion.

Acting as a safe pair of hands protects valuable company information and ensures its safe transfer to an incoming permanent FD, rather than leaving a finance vacuum at the top of the company and a very steep learning curve for the new incumbent, which can prove very costly.

In summary then, “What is an Interim Finance Director?“ He or she is a vastly experienced financial professional, often overqualified for the role, who can parachute into your business at very short notice to assist with a specific issue, project or transaction and deliver results quickly.

At Intervallum we pride ourselves with the delivery of high quality interim service provision combined with the ultimate flexibility - you turn the tap off at the point when you have had all the required targets and services delivered, and your thirst has been quenched. No notice period, no settlement agreements, no further costs.

Whether you are looking to sell your business, have a need for a safe pair of hands between permanent Finance Directors, or require urgent assistance with getting cash into your company fast, Intervallum will add value to your business from day 1.

We are the sledgehammer to crack your walnut - remember, when you need and Interim, choose Intervallum.

Paul Hooper-Keeley is the Managing Director of Intervallum Limited, a provider of Interim Finance Director Services ( ). He can be contacted at  or on 07958 155705.


Monday, 26 January 2015

Having a boss could be bad for you: Freelancers are happier and earn more

Working for yourself could be the secret to happiness, a new report from Brighton University’s Business School has suggested. 

It said the nation's freelancers are happier, primarily because they don't have a permanent boss and so don’t have to face criticism or unfair demands. Nor do they have to battle it out with colleagues to get ahead, and they actually take home a fatter pay check.  

Researchers said that it was the ideal lifestyle, allowing people to work from home and a variety of other locations, and work only for themselves. 

"For many, freelancing is emerging as the ideal lifestyle, especially in creative and digital industries where people can work from any location, including home, and which demand high levels of innovation," Dr Jonathan Sapsed, who headed the report, told the Sunday Times. 

In recent years, the number of self-employed people in Britain has swelled, as the UK leads western Europe for self-employment. In August it reached the highest level since records began, with 4.6 million people or 15 per cent of the workforce working for themselves, according to official figures. 

Dr Sapsed said, "What we found was a very positive picture where freelancers act more like entrepreneurs. They are professional, business-like, good at self-promotion and managing multiple brands." 

Ed Vaizey, the culture, communications and creative industries minister, said the findings of the study showed the vitality of the freelance economy. 

‘The self-employed play a key role in driving the culture of innovation in the creative and digital industries and are a vital part of Britain’s economic growth,’ he said. 

This reinforces the view that we're headed towards a dramatically different economy in which most workers will be independent contractors. Freelancers will work on demand for whoever needs their services rather than for fixed periods of time for a single employer.  

As The Economist describes, workers will be on a platform that matches them with customers and provides verification, security and payment systems. This is the world of Uber and will increasingly be the world of just about everything: handyman services, cooking, laundry, shopping, scheduling, personal training, coding, doctoring, lawyering, bossing and creating everything from television ads to Ebola suits. As these services spread, they will create the "on-demand economy" or the "platform economy."  

Mary-Anne Slaughter, CEO of The New American Foundation, believes The Economist missed a deeper transformation, however: a set of forces that will reshape not only ways of working but also patterns of consumption. The clue to this blind spot, she says, lies in the following sentence: "The on-demand economy is unlikely to be a happy experience for people who value stability more than flexibility." For middle-aged professionals and everyone else who must combine breadwinning and caregiving, flexibility is the Holy Grail. 

Flexibility allows lawyers, businesswomen, bankers, doctors and many other professionals to continue to advance in their careers or at least stay in the game while being the kind of parents they want to be. As a result, the economy will become on-demand by the providers of services as much as by the consumers. 

The most important dimension of this flexibility is that it allows workers to have both a job and time to do other things they care about. Now you can spend your money on experiences, which psychologists have long known make us happier than material things. Those experiences for young and old include sports, travel, the arts and the ability to make all sorts of things. It will be an economy that allows people time to both make a living and do what they most care about. The lucky ones care about their work not just as a source of income but for its own sake, as something that we enjoy doing and/or are deeply committed to as part of our life's purpose. Even so, however, we are one-dimensional and boring if we care only about work. 

Thus, working freelance can improve our quality of life whilst also ensuring a better work life balance – and that has got to be a good thing.

Friday, 23 January 2015

‘Love Business 2015’ - The biggest FREE business event of its kind in the Midlands

Six times larger, brand NEW format! 

When: 9.30am – 3.30pm, Thursday 12th February 2015 

Where: Donington Park, International Exhibition Hall 

If you are a business owner or manager, you can’t afford to miss Love Business 2015. Be a part of this huge record breaking FREE EVENT & give yourself an explosive start to 2015! 

The biggest and best FREE business event in the region has moved into The International Exhibition Hall at Donington Park - 12th February 2015. 12 Amazing new premium attractions to guarantee everything you need from one event. 

To make the most of the opportunities plan your day! 

At SIX times larger than The Paddock Suite, Love Business 2015 is going to be huge! With the support of the East Midlands Chamber as main sponsor  - the biggest and best FREE business event in the region has moved into The International Exhibition Hall. 

12 New Amazing Reasons To Visit 

1)   Guinness World Record ‘Speed Networking’ Attempt

2)   East Midlands Chamber, Love Business Village Global, National & Regional Brands together with a 'one stop shop' GROWTH HUB access to the different grant, growth and funding opportunities!

3)   FSB Networking Hub - relaxed business networking in the cafe, restaurant & licensed bar! FREE Listing on Love Business Networking Directory

4)   Love Business Driving and Donington Stig Experience - Take a look at this new and exciting area by Sturgess for business drivers, win a chance to race around the famous track with the Donington Stig!

5)   Fantastic speakers to inspire, enthuse and motivate - gem106 Love Business Speaker Theatre already has an amazing line-up and there's more to come!

6)   Six FREE interactive sessions in the IOD Workshops Hub - Book your place today because you'd typically pay £100's per seat for one of these sessions.

7)   BT & Samsung Love Business Online and Mobile. Leading experts provide mini-workshops on what's happening and how it impacts on business communications.

8)   100's of Exhibitors - A showcase of the regions business diversity Manufacturers, logistics, food producers, and much, much more! Together with 1000's of business owners and decision makers in one place it’s a golden opportunity to make new contacts.

9)   Visit ‘The GREAT Employer Apprenticeship Showcase’ featuring the regions leading businesses from a diverse cross section of sectors. Find out first hand how they are growing, optimising their productivity and out performing their competition.

10)               Apprenticeships Support Hub - Employer Incentives & apprenticeship facts. If you want to know anything about how to get an apprentice to the added benefits available from taking people on within this scheme - then no matter what you do or where you are based you will get your questions answered.

11)               NCN Business Support Hub - A showcase of regional businesses and support from the fastest growing to the most innovative - you can learn from these businesses and how they have grown.

12)               Manufacturing Showcase - Access £1000's in support & talk to others who have and find out about the regions 'fastest growing' manufacturers and the grant funding helping them break their barriers to growth. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Real FD Live – Tuesday 24th February at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel, Kensington, London

Real FD Live from Real Business and Equity FD is a conference designed for entrepreneurial finance directors at growing businesses.

These FDs work alongside the CEOs of high-performance companies and have the power and control to really shape their business - beyond just the numbers. They have to deal with everything from HR to IT, managing a constantly shifting set of advisers and providers.

These entrepreneurial FDs need peer-level advice, quickly, from a trustworthy source. That source of information is the Real FD Network, which comes together at Real FD Live.

The event’s programme will drill down into practical issues affecting FDs, with an agenda based on real problems and questions from the audience both on the day and gathered in advance.

At hosted tables during lunch, FDs will share their experiences and challenges by asking for solutions to their problems - or solving them for others.

This training–led, interactive approach will be mixed with inspirational war stories from big-name FDs, often those who started as an FD before graduating to a CEO of a well-known company.

Full programme: -

8:30        Registration and breakfast

9:00        Welcome

9:10        The big debate - Motion: The biggest threat to the UK business lies outside its shores

Are geopolitical shocks and weak economic growth in Europe a bigger potential threat to growing businesses in the UK than domestic challenges including an impending election and uncertain monetary policy?

Two sides go head to head to win your vote.

9:45        Keeping an iron grip: the art of managing cash flow without a treasury function

10:20     Tales from the trenches

An interview with ... Paul Viner, founder, Intelligent Goat

10:40     A problem shared... IT

Delegates are invited to submit their real-life challenges to a panel of experts

11:05     Coffee

11:30     Understanding your owners

Banks. Invoice finance. Crowd funding. Private equity. Angels. The public markets.

What different ownership models mean in real life

12:15     Management dynamics: getting the most out of your board

12:50     A problem shared... HR

Delegates are invited to submit their real-life challenges to a panel of experts

1:15        Working networking lunch…

Tables hosted by sponsors, knowledge exchange/networking

2:35        Getting the model right – the art of planning

3:10        Tales from the trenches

An interview with....TBC

3:30        Coffee

3:50        The multiple dream: pulling off the perfect realisation

4:25        Where next? A masterclass in managing your career

5:00        Close and networking drinks


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Chartered Director: Why every Company needs their Directors to be Professional

In the recent recession, when costs needed to be managed especially closely in order to survive, one of the first things that many businesses chopped from the budget as not mission critical was their training budget. The justification was that belts had to be tightened; training was a luxury that business could do without as the hatches were battened down. But was this thinking the right way to go? 

In tough economic times, where there is likely to be a freeze on new recruitment, then I would suggest that it is all the more imperative that employers are able to get the best out of the staff that they do have. And the only way to do this is by identifying skills gaps and then closing this gap via training. In the West Midlands we have a strong advocate for improving individual’s skill sets in Lord Digby Jones, who regularly makes speeches encouraging skills training at all levels across the region. And some of the statistics he quotes of skills failings are truly frightening. 

For most companies to stand a chance of survival, it is vital to have the best Board and Management Team possible. As Jim Collins said in his seminal work, “Good to Great”, employees aren’t your greatest assets, the “right” employees are. Get the right people on the bus, and in the right seats, before you start your journey (vision/strategy). This will make all the difference when the entire economy suffers a trauma such as the one we have experienced in recent years and the business relies on its top level team to navigate the Company around the rocks.  

The future direction and success of almost every businesses is dependent on the quality, experience and strategy of those executives at the top i.e. the Board of Directors. But the entry level to be a Director in its simplest form is that you just need to spend your £35 at Companies House on a new registration, or be at the right place at the right time (next in line?) within a Company who may be losing an existing Director to retirement, moving company or after a transaction has completed. This can’t be right - neither of these options are ideal for good and informed decision making and, in fact, can easily be detrimental, knee jerk and destabilising to a business (let alone ‘strategy-lite’). Would you want an inexperienced surgeon with no qualifications (and who hadn’t undertaken the procedure previously) operating on you? No, I thought not. So why is this tolerated within the business world? Lives may not be directly at risk, but jobs and livelihoods most definitely are! 

Thus, at the senior level, to support previous business experience (and preferably professional functional qualifications), there is one training route that stands out above all others – the Institute of Director’s programme in Company Direction leading to the Chartered Director qualification. Here, the new Board member undertakes courses on ‘The Role of the Director and the Board’, ‘Finance for Non-Finance Directors’, ‘The Director’s Role in Strategy & Marketing’, ‘The Director’s Role in Leading the Organisation’ and ‘Developing Board Performance’. Remarkably, this is still the only qualification route for training professional Directors, and the only designation in this field that can help investors gain confidence that the Chartered Directors running a particular Company have been suitably trained for the role that they are undertaking. 

Train as a Chartered Director to give you the tools to do the job at Board level and gain the credibility and marketability that this professional qualification will give you in your business career. 

Paul Hooper-Keeley (who qualified in 2000 as the IoD’s 25th Chartered Director and is now an Institute of Director’s West Midlands Ambassador)

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Networking in the West Midlands over the next 4-weeks…

13th January – Turnaround Management Association event at Gateley’s offices in Birmingham from 6pm (£40 for non-members). 

16th January – Chamber of Commerce Professional Networking Lunch at Drayton Manor Hotel 

20th January – CIMA Mentoring & Network event, Westley Hotel, Birmingham 

21st January – Birmingham Business Breakfast Club at Hotel Du Vin 

21st January – Else Solicitors Professional Networking Lunch at Jojolapa, Newhall Street 

22nd January – Insider Business Breakfast, Two Colmore Square 

23rd January – Lichfield Business Connect Breakfast 

26th January – The Super Network, National Motorcycle Museum (5pm to 8pm) 

27th January – Insider Midlands Manufacturing Breakfast, MTC, Ansty Park 

27th January – CIMA Integrated Reporting event, Telford 

28th January – Institute of Director’s ‘Positive Psychology in SMEs’, Botanical Gardens (free event). 5.15pm – 8pm  

29th January – LMI Leadership Lunch, Opus Restaurant, Cornwall Street 

30th January – Fish ‘n’ Chip Friday, Sutton Coldfield 

4th February – Building a Global Business, Innovation Birmingham. 6pm – 8.30pm 

5th February – Burton Chamber of Commerce ‘Goal Setting’ breakfast, Branston Golf Club 

5th February – Institute for Turnaround event, Somerset House, Birmingham. 6pm 

Hopefully I will see many of you at some of the above events.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

CIMA Event, ‘Integrated reporting’, in Telford at 6.30pm on Tuesday 27th January (FOC, guests welcome)

This presentation includes a brief overview of sustainability reporting prior to the integrated reporting project and how integrated reporting can help businesses. 

Date:           27th January 2015 commencing at 18:30   

Location:     Ramada Telford Hotel, Forgegate, Telford. TF3 4NA 

Price:           GBP 0.00   

Buffet served on arrival 

Book your free place by emailing  

What you can gain: - 

Jack Christian will describe the social and environmental challenges facing modern businesses and the way in which integrated reporting can help businesses meet these challenges and indeed add value to the business. He introduces the principles underlying integrated reporting and discusses the content and presentation as mooted in the framework.  He finishes by suggesting how a business might approach implementing integrated reporting. During the presentation, Jack will emphasise the contribution to be made by management accountants and in particular the role of environmental management accounting.  

Please also see details of the CGMA Thought leadership report on integrated reporting via the following URL address: - 

Speaker Details: - 

Jack Christian served with the Royal Corps of Signals and on leaving the Army, he started work as a cost clerk eventually qualifying with CIMA in 1982. He was awarded his MBA by Henley Management College in 1991. He joined Manchester Metropolitan University Business School as a full time lecturer in 2007 and qualified as a Master in Research in 2009.   

Prior to becoming a lecturer, most of his career has been spent in SMEs and has included posts such as financial director at Elton Cop Dyeing Co. Ltd, a manufacturer in Bury; European financial controller for Whiford Corporation, a small American multi-national; group accountant for the RSW Group, an importer and wholesaling and retailing group; and regional finance manager for Groundwork UK, a national environmental regeneration charity.

Monday, 5 January 2015

General Election 2015: Why my vote will go to the political party that engages the most with business

We now find ourselves in 2015 and just four months away from the next General Election that will determine who will be governing the country for the next five years (or, perhaps, which party will get the first chance to try and put a coalition together). 

The main political parties have already started their campaigning, sloganeering and political rhetoric, and some of it is really quite concerning. 

David Cameron has already committed the country to an in/out referendum on Europe, one of business’s most important trading markets, if the Conservatives win an overall majority (apparently only a 16% chance of this). Furthermore, his “Red lights flashing on the dashboard of the global economy” comments aren’t very helpful if his main purpose is to frighten the focus of the electorate on to the economy (and away from the NHS) – business is all about confidence, and when that goes then the hatches get battened down, CapEx is put on hold, bank lending dries up (not that we have seen a deluge in recent years anyway), and many business lock down into ‘wait and see’ and ‘survival’ mode. It can take some time to turn this around and see any tangible benefits. 

As bad as that seems, we then have Ed Miliband and his left leaning ideology of wealth (re)distribution and his hankering to meddle in business. So far, he has suggested freezing energy prices by the big 6 firms for two years whilst making no provision as to what their supply chain might do to them in the meantime (there’ll be no investment in energy infrastructure, that’s for sure). Construction companies can expect to have to sell their land-banks in double-quick time if they don’t get a move on and start building on them. Landlords will be in for a hard time if they want to put rents up after Labour have come to power, banks will see another swingeing tax placed on them, and for the rest of the country the 50% top/top rate of tax (yes, we have an extra tier of top rate tax since Gordon Brown’s poison pill on his way out of Downing Street which rarely gets mentioned) will return to the UK (probably without increasing the tax take; in fact statistics show that it may even reduce it).  

UKIP want the UK to leave Europe, but haven’t really produced much of tangible note regarding business so far, and the Liberal Democrats appear to want to be Kingmaker and cling on to power again (but may end up smaller than UKIP, the SNP and even the Greens). If the SNP all but wipe Labour out in Scotland, but then join a Westminster coalition with Labour, there will certainly be mutterings of constitutional issues and a destabilising effect that may result in another general election before the year is out (which will certainly add to instability in the markets). 

In recent times, it has seemed like the political goal of all parties to take as many people out of income tax at the lower end of earnings as possible, and in many ways this is an admirable thing to do (although the jobs tax of National Insurance constantly remains). However, with the top 1% of earners now paying 30% of all income tax, and with the treasury not able to significantly reduce the deficit due to the reducing amount of tax receipts taken, we could be heading for serious trouble. And if the tax and spend party return to power, that could get much worse as the public sector swells and bloats once more (and it has even been mooted that the 20% and 40% tax bands may have to go up if this scenario plays out). 

Taking things back to the basics that Lord Digby Jones so rightly included within his Fixing Britain book, it is business that creates employment. Investment and entrepreneurship, in the wrapper of a trading organisation, creates jobs. Jobs require staff who then get paid but also contribute to the country via direct and indirect taxes. Without these taxes there would be no public sector; no nurses, no doctors, no police service, no fire service, no army/navy/RAF and no civil servants (as the government would have no money to spend). 

Private sector business plays an important part in the UK economy, so it is incredibly disappointing to see business people vilified as ‘fat cats’ and the like when it is these very people who put up and risk their own money (and houses) to pursue an idea that may crash and burn, but also might just succeed and grow and create significant employment (and tax receipts) in the meantime. 

I know that it is near on impossible to stop a politician from saying the things that they believe you want to hear, which they constantly do in an attempt to win votes and achieve their short-term goal of power. But for once it would be encouraging, in the run up to a general election, for a political party to acknowledge the importance of the Private sector to the UK economy and treat the business community more like a valued partner than a pariah. And if one of the political parties is able to do that, then they can certainly count on my vote.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

CBI Director General, John Cridland - New Year message for 2015

Director General John Cridland on the challenges and changes that 2015 will bring. 

As political parties position themselves ahead of the election, John Cridland, CBI Director-General, will spelt out in his New Year message how to create a stronger economy, deliver a better future for our young people and secure Britain’s place in the world.  

Focusing on three areas of action, he reminded politicians of all shades that reducing the deficit and cementing the UK’s reputation as one of the best places to do business must remain top priorities for the next government. He issued a clarion call to radically reform the education system by scrapping GCSEs, and urge political leaders to place facts first amid the increasingly fevered debate on the UK's membership of the European Union. 

Mr Cridland said: 

A year of change and challenge beckons for us all as we hurtle towards the general election. It has been a successful year for the UK economy, and we have emerged stronger and more able to tackle the challenges ahead. 

Our economy is among those enjoying the fastest growth among the G7 nations, with 1.2 million jobs created this year and employment set to grow in every region of the UK in 2015. 

But the political and economic risks at home and abroad represent a clear and present danger. As the election countdown accelerates, I urge politicians of all hues not to take their eyes off the economic ball. 

We must sustain the best launch pad for the UK economy and our young people. Cementing Britain’s reputation in the world as one of the best places to do business has to be a top priority for 2015. 

On creating the best conditions for future economic growth, Mr Cridland focused on the importance of deficit reduction to delivering sustainable growth: 

For business leaders, deficit reduction is a must for the next Government. 

The main political parties are in agreement on the need for action but seem reluctant to be upfront on the major structural changes needed to prevent public services suffering decline through a thousand cuts.  

All political parties need to give as much attention to how they will run Government as to what Government should do.  

Post-Autumn Statement, the same approach to public service reform is no longer an option. Much of the low hanging fruit is long since gone and only radical solutions will deliver. 

Let’s see the integration of health and social care, and a significant increase in services available online. 

On creating a better future for our young people, Mr Cridland said: 

Britain’s young people are streetwise and impressive, but our education system doesn’t always serve them well.   

While the average is gently improving, we see too many left behind, and others who could be high achievers not fulfilling their potential. 

We need to get the basics right first time in primary school and then provide a personal menu of tailored learning plans for all 14-18 year olds offering high quality academic and vocational ‘A’ levels, and encouraging young people to mix and match, depending on what's right for them.  

This will involve the eventual abolition of GCSEs at 16, as peak level testing would then take place when students are 18. 

By boosting skills we will see productivity rise – along with earnings. And business will play its part by improving competitiveness, and creating opportunities for young people through apprenticeships, and for older workers through workplace retraining. 

On the future of Britain’s place in the world, Mr Cridland said that the majority of CBI members want the UK to remain within a reformed EU. 

The fundamental choice here is whether Britain wants to be a global citizen or retreat behind national borders. The needs of the modern world increasingly don’t recognise either the Berlin Walls or the Hadrian’s Walls of the past.  

Political isolationism would leave us poorer. The majority of CBI member companies of all sizes want to remain in a reformed EU.  

But the EU has to reform and needs to be more competitive, outward looking and open. It must sign more trade deals, like the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, which could be worth at least 120 billion EUR every year and would create a combined market of more than 800m people, bringing more choices for consumers at cheaper prices. 

And we also need less EU – no more lifestyle regulation on matters like employment, such as the working time directive, which should be left to member states, and no more damaging regulations on UK financial services that are vital to fuelling growth across Europe.

Britain will continue to progress

There is much more to do but the signs are positive. UK growth is expected to hit 2.5% in 2015.  

Restoring wage growth will help more people feel that they are benefitting from the recovery, but the upsurge in productivity required will only follow on from increasing skills across the piece. 

I’m optimistic that we can grow living standards, spread the benefit of growth for the country and move forwards with confidence if we make the right choices. Let’s get on with it.