Response to Lord Grimstone’s open letter, from Nick Owen and Alan Belfield


17 May 2021

Dear Lord Grimstone,

On behalf of the Professional & Business Services Council (PBSC), as the two business co-Chairs (outgoing and incoming) we warmly welcome your recent letter to those in the Professional and Business Services (PBS) Sector.

From Nick Owen – Deloitte:

Comprised of a diverse and innovative range of subsectors, the membership of the PBSC has expanded significantly during my tenure as industry co-chair, and I believe we have built a proactive and collaborative Council with sector leaders represented from across PBS firms, Professional Bodies and Trade Associations. The sector has navigated through some significant disruption, during which the PBSC has sought to inform and challenge the government, ensuring that the sector’s priorities have been heard, as well as the priorities of our broader client base within UK industry.

Through the PBSC, we have developed a better mutual understanding with the government on the needs of the sector, the economy and the future of work. The dedicated working groups have evolved with the times, working with government on some of the UK’s most pressing issues, such as EU Exit and the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included technical support on services provisions for future trade negotiations, and evidence-based challenge to recognise the importance of global talent. With talent at the heart of what we do, the need for greater social inclusion and new skills and capabilities within the sector is of critical importance to its future, and we can look forward to developing an action plan from the PBS Future Skills research following its launch in June. In addition, our work with HMT and BEIS on socio-economic diversity and progression over the next year will have a significant bearing on diversity and inclusion at a senior level.

Most recently, the sector has looked to play its part in supporting the UK’s COVID-19 response. As a sector we are incredibly proud of so many of our people who are providing close support to the critical government-led national efforts (such as the Nightingale hospitals, and pooling skills to support the cross-industry Ventilator Challenge UK consortium). Additionally, we provided sector-side input to the government throughout the pandemic on the challenges facing all businesses and the type of economic regulatory easements that might support the economy over the long term. The sector has also been providing professional advice to our clients navigating these uncertain times and looking towards recovery and growth.

It’s been an honour to have held the position of business co-Chair and I would like to thank my fellow Council members for all their support over the past five years. I will be handing over the business-side Chair to Alan, who knows the PBSC extremely well, and have no doubt he will to take the Council from strength to strength over the coming years.

Alan Belfield – Arup:

Although my predecessor, Nick, leaves a huge gap to fill, we have a vibrant Council, an evolving Steering Committee, active Working Groups and a solid relationship with government. My time at Arup has given me a strong insight to the challenges the country needs to tackle, particularly around the path to Net Zero, regional inequalities, export growth and ensuring responsible business is a binding thread throughout everything the sector does.

As the UK economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognise the intent behind the government’s Plan for Growth and we believe our priorities for the coming year on Trade, Levelling Up, Social Mobility and Climate Change will support this plan. However, as the past year has shown, we face unprecedented change and a rapidly evolving global landscape. In order to succeed and build upon our partnership, we will need flexibility and adaptability from all members of the PBSC and government.


Trade in services represent a major opportunity with the sector’s professional standards in particular representing a soft power multiplier in promoting UK interests. We believe the government needs to sustain, expand and champion PBS as part of Global Britain, and our trade group will be focusing on trade promotion and PBS’ role in DIT’s Export Strategy in support of this.

Levelling Up

The PBSC also continues to support the government’s levelling up agenda. We recognise that COVID-19 has made the need to tackle the social and economic disparities across the UK ever more pressing, and we are committed to supporting wherever we can.

Social Mobility

As your letter mentioned, the strong performance in the Social Mobility Index demonstrates how much social mobility has been a major sector focus over the past ten years, with recruiting methods changing and Diversity & Inclusion programmes widespread across the sector. However, despite this strong record, we recognise we still have further to go ourselves. There is much that needs to be done across the UK, particularly given the pandemic’s impact on youth employment, and a need for us to lead by example. This is why the PBSC has set up a new group to focus exclusively on how we can improve access and progression within the sector and will also be providing close support to the new BEIS/HMT Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce.

Climate Change

One of the most pressing issues of our time, the PBSC will be working on how it can support the drive to Net Zero carbon emissions and where it can channel its strengths as a leading innovative sector on the wider climate agenda at COP26 and beyond.

With our historic role in developing talent – graduates, apprenticeships and experienced hires – into highly skilled employees, our ability to innovate and use new technologies to solve complex problems, the PBS sector is a major UK success story. However, there is still much further for the sector to go. The Council has a key role to play, both in extending a voice to the key issues and amplifying the great range of initiatives already ongoing across the sector to ensure good practice can be passed on. We know that the PBSC brand also needs greater communication and we will be increasing our efforts to help showcase who we are and what we do.

As a Council we will continue to support the government wherever we can and challenge where we believe further focus is needed, and I look forward to working in partnership with government as we look to rebuild an economy and society that is better and fairer.

Kind regards,


Nick Owen Alan Belfield
UK Chair, Deloitte Chair, Arup