The recent arguments about ‘cronyism’ within the UK Government have piqued my interest, causing me to consider how mine and many other businesses operate and interact with the wider world.

At its most basic there are allegations that leading businessmen and former politicians were able to exert undue influence and have a direct line to policy makers and influencers. In some cases, I would reflect that this was the entire purpose of their role or employment, it’s why and how they got the job.

At most stages of business, you are interested in having influence; a belief that when you call or write it will be noticed and responded to. Many of us are engaged as much for who we know as what we know, and ideally a combination of the two. As business consultants or for marketing and events, people talk to us because of our experience but also in the belief that we can do the job better or quicker than others. Some of this is down to knowing who to call upon; having built relationships over periods and projects we will know who can do the best job and that when we call, they’ll answer.

Of course, it is different when this applies to potential misuse or misappropriation of public funds, but there are definitely times when the ability to influence or have input on the decisions of Parliament is extremely useful. Certain industry bodies like the recently established Live, the Music Venues Trust or the Night Time Industries Association exist primarily to give a greater voice to the individuals and businesses they represent, whether in the media or in consultation with government departments. I should add that paying for influence via party donations is something entirely different and that the work of these organisations, often without fanfare, is utterly laudable.

Questions over a level-playing-field are relevant, business can be a contact sport and its rarely fair. I know well that should we pitch for an opportunity and one of the other companies competing has a pre-existing relationship (personal or professional) with the decision makers, we’re far less likely to be chosen.

In certain procurement situations there are well-established regulations and safeguards which should always be observed but, in most cases, as the UK Government is proving, the boundaries are a bit blurred, and interpretations can be open to question. I consequently began to wonder if, and when, I may have unduly exercised influence for personal gain and whether I should be proud or embarrassed by it.

The truth is that the bulk of us work in businesses where relationships are crucial, they’re the very foundation of what we do. We may try to pretend otherwise but we all get by with a little (and often, a lot) of help from our friends. We have only survived lockdown and the absence of events, by diversifying and helping our friends in associated businesses.

Some of us graft for a while to gain an advantage, to become influential. We all want to believe in a meritocracy, even though we know it’s been disproven. All we can do is ensure that our behaviour is ethical, that we act fairly and bring others along with us rather than pulling the ladder up as we scale it. Knowing and acknowledging your privileges is a great starting point. In business as in life, use your influence wisely.