Mark Leftly: Proof that a word in the right ear changes policy

Government made to see sense on migrant cap
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The Independent Online

I tried and failed to get a hold of Sir Michael Snyder last week; he's in France and couldn't be reached.

I wanted to congratulate him, because if he's achieved what I think he's achieved, Snyder has just brought some common sense to one of the coalition's more ludicrous immigration policies. The City is the obvious beneficiary, but the Government's amendments to its proposed immigration cap will also, I hope, be the start of dragging policy into the 21st century.

The Government's immigration cap would have limited the number of skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area. It is a way for the Tories to fulfil their pledge to halve net immigration from nearly 200,000 people by 2015. It is an issue of enormous tension for their Liberal Democrat partners; the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, argues that the proposed system needs to be more flexible. Cable has gone so far as to argue that the cap could do "huge damage" to the British economy.

Even to strong supporters of limiting immigration, the policy made little sense, given that no country should want to cut the number of big brains active in its economy. David Cameron relaxed the policy slightly on Wednesday, announcing that "intra-company transfers" would not be included in the cap.

Snyder is the senior partner at accountant Kingston Smith and he is also the chairman of the Professional Services Competitiveness Group. Lord Mandelson formed this committee during the dying days of the Labour government, but it has more influence under the coalition. For example, both Cable and Mark Prisk, his junior minister, attended a recent 1 hour 40 minute meeting of the group.

The duo should have found the meeting beneficial. Sitting before them were about 20 of the top people in professional services. They included Stuart Popham, the senior partner at commercial law giant Clifford Chance; Ken Shuttleworth, the long-time Norman Foster lieutenant who went off to set up the architecture practice Make; PricewaterhouseCoopers' chairman, Ian Powell; Steve Ingham, the chief executive at recruitment consultant Michael Page International; and Christopher Satterthwaite, the boss of advertising giant Chime Communications.

They all agreed that the cap would hurt their businesses and the economy. They could see global institutions relocating to Asia or North America to keep their top talent together.

I am told that Snyder met the Chancellor, George Osborne, the Thursday before last. My source adds that Snyder laid down the bare facts, that starving business of talent is no way to tackle the ultra-sensitive mass immigration issue. Businesses, Osborne was told, were going to struggle unless they could get the best staff.

Maybe I've got this wrong, but as Cameron announced that change just six days later, I can only believe that Snyder's argument was decisive in changing the Government's mind.

Snyder's group meets four times a year, but it's squeezing in an extra session. I hope Snyder brings back fine champagne from France, as the committee members should raise their glasses to him.

Botin on board: Can Spaniard float Santander's boat?

The most ultra-macho of British industries are being infiltrated by women: Cynthia Carroll leads Anglo American with a resilience equal to that of the grizzled hard nuts who dismiss her; Alison Carnwath is bringing common sense to the often sleazy world of commercial property as chairman of Land Securities; and now Ana Patricia Botin has been named chief executive of Santander's UK arm.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Botin has to lead a flotation of the bank that is expected to raise about £4bn. Despite a fabulous CV and being the daughter of the group's chairman, she is unrecognisable in the City. Investors need a known name if they are to pay top dollar for shares.

You've made your point, RMT – now just get on with the job

As my colleague made the long walk over the Thames from Waterloo station to the City, her high heels blistering her feet, she got it.

As I handed over £15 to a taxi driver for a journey that would normally cost £1.80, I got it.

As the taxi driver sat for hours in the even more congested than usual central London roads, he got it.

As parents all over the capital struggled to reach nurseries and schools in time to pick up their children, they got it.

That's my first message to you RMT: we get it. The strikes, the third of which took place on Wednesday, show just how important your staff are, that without them London's transport system crumbles.

However, where once there was sympathy for your cause, now there is contempt. Where the public felt concern that 800 more underground staff are to be dumped on the dole queue, they now just wish that those who remain would get on with their jobs. Strikes are legitimate courses of action, but the point is to demonstrate your power, not to settle a score.

A 24-hour Tube strike wrecks everyone's plans, while the Fire Brigade Union's absurd, disgraceful decision to down hoses on bonfire night – called off at the last moment – would have endangered lives. The FBU may have relented, but few of us will forget how close it came to executing this stupid plan. In terms of the RMT, it would be far more sensible to strike just during rush hour or make a sudden but short walk-out.

The disruption would mean that we still get it, that the worries of vital employees must be listened to. Yet the public would not also feel that it is being pushed around.

The unions believe that industrial action will bring the public onside. Done right, it can.

But this is a country that, despite the mass unemployment, the wrecking of communities both small and vast, and the years of extreme boom and bust, still reveres Thatcher. And that is almost entirely because she broke the out-of-control unions.

This is my second message to you, RMT: don't test our patience.