For decades now there has been a fierce political debate raging about Britain’s future in the European Union. Lamentably there has been little objective debate over the question of aligning national economic interests with those of our European neighbours. However, with the introduction of Euro notes and coins across Europe on 1 January 2002, the Euro question has never been more urgent.
Leaving aside individual political agendas and personal opinions rather than rational assessments, the business case for the design industry must examine two things. First, what are the general benefits to inclusion in the European Monetary Union and second, do these factors apply to design groups?
The Euro zone model was originally conceived to create something approximating a United States of Europe. In this territory, it was hoped, member states would have the benefits of belonging to the largest single economy in the world, while effectively retaining political autonomy. The major benefit of this union for businesses would be the creation of more fertile conditions in which to do business (such as the lifting of cross border duties, the right to work in any member state and a single currency).
By adopting a common currency (first called the Ecu – European currency unit – and now called the Euro), economists calculated there would be savings on exchange rates for pan-European businesses, price stability (lower inflation) and an easier environment in which to conduct cross-border business. In short, it would create wealth.
Given that so many UK consultancies already operate pan-European and global operations, or would consider setting them up in the future, the design industry stands to be an intended ‘beneficiary’ of the single currency.
The NatWest Small Business Research Trust has also found that small businesses are as likely to be as concerned as blue chip companies over the implications for the Euro; 40 per cent of small businesses feel they need more information on its implications, according to the organisation.
Another issue is Britain’s prominence as a European design force, as Jim Bell, managing director of international marketing services consultancy Results International Consulting, points out.
Because the UK is such a prominent centre for design, it already benefits significantly from contracts with other European Union member states, says Bell, who spends the majority of his time working with overseas marketing services groups. Bell suggests that a client on the Continent buying packaging might naturally look to the UK for its design work, when a UK client might not look to do the reverse.
Although this might suggest that design consultancies would have a lot to gain from a single currency which strengthened links with the rest of the EU, design heads are cautious about sticking their heads above the parapet.
While The Brand Union chief executive officer Dave Allen describes the benefits of a single currency as a ‘no brainer’, others are slower to offer enthusiasm, perhaps for fear of upsetting politically sensitive clients.
To a large extent, the outlook of consultancies needs to reflect that of their clients and there can be little doubt that globalisation has been a key driver for the bigger ones, which are well-versed in the multinational arts.
A glance at Design Week’s 2001 Top 100 (DW 29 March) reveals only one consultancy which has offices in the UK only. That group – digital media consultancy Wheel – is unlikely to appear there next year, because of the recent downturn in its fortunes.
While the Bank of England has already begun paving the way for Britain’s mooted joining of the Euro (see www.bankofengland .co.uk), the possibility has had a divided reception in the public arena.
In a letter to The Financial Times a month ago, 60 business people pledged their support to the pro-Euro Ken Clarke in the battle for the Conservative leadership contest.
On the other hand, last week saw the launch of a ‘No Euro’ movement headed by JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin, which claims to be a ‘non-party political campaign that represents two thirds of the British public and businesses’. The No-Euro lobby argues that Britain should remain a member of the European Union, but it should not join the single currency.
As a sector with a vested interest, maybe it is time for the design industry to get hands on with the Euro debate. After all, in less than four months’ time we will start buying these Euro notes and coins for the bulk of our short-haul trips.
Bank of England: www.bankofengland.co.uk
No Euro Campaign: www.no-euro.com
European Commission: http://europa.eu.int/euro
Department of Trade and Industry: www.dti.gov.uk