Lunch with... Phil Hickley
PRCA director general Francis Ingham dines with AXA head of public affairs Phil Hickley at Shepherd's of Westminster.
The tone of this interview was very different to most of the PAN interviews I’ve enjoyed over the past year.
Now please don’t take offence, previous lunch guests. I'm not necessarily saying that Phil was more heavyweight. Just that he takes his policy responsibilities a little more seriously…. And that’s no bad thing in these difficult times eh?
I asked him straight off what’s on his desk right now.
"We have a major new public policy initiative around flooding, and the provision of flood insurance. It basically means that flood insurance will become more affordable and more accessible for those who live in the highest flood risk region. 350,000 people live in very high flood risk areas, and this scheme will make their lives significantly more secure."
Which all sounds very commendable. In fact, if you’re living there, it sounds life-changing. So who funds it, I ask?
"The legislation requires insurance companies to pay a levy based on their market share. So the levy goes into the fund, and the fund gets built up by the levy."
I challenge Phil. Why should someone who’s bought a place that has no risk of flooding basically subsidise somebody who’s bought property in a place that floods? I live round the corner form the Home Office for example. Nobody subsidises my risk of being blown up. I might’ve paraphrased that slightly….
"At the end of the day, society has a duty to make sure that people can access affordable insurance. Otherwise you end up with parts of the country where people would not be able to buy or sell property. And that’s in nobody’s interests."
And I guess if you think of all the behaviours, lifestyle choices, and decisions that people make and are subsidised for, Phil’s argument makes a lot of sense. I put it to Phil that this kind of work is important but, well, dull. And his defence couldn’t be stronger.
"We are responsible for rebuilding people’s lives. For example, the average cost of the Cumbrian floods was about £50,000. People are out of their homes for not just days; not just weeks; but for months. We have to help them to recover."
What else is he up to I ask? We move onto dangerous territory: the dreaded whiplash. It can make a grown, healthy man into a wreck. And often the signs are invisible!
"It’s said that the UK has the weakest necks in Europe. Just look at the preponderance of whiplash claims that the country suffers, compared to countries like France or Germany -other countries with a similar population, a similar road network, and a similar transport infrastructure. We’re working with Government to manage the cost of injury claims. So for example, we now have lower fixed legal costs - £500 compared with the previous figure of £1,200. And those lower costs feed directly into our claims costs. And we reflect them in lower premiums to customers."
We move on from insurance-specific matters to political ones more broadly. I suggest that as Phil’s worked with a whole variety of Governments and Oppositions, he must have a perspective on what’s happening today, particularly (for this lunch was pre June 23rd/24th) on the Brexit issue.
"Our corporate view is that the UK would be better served in a reformed Europe than in being outside of Europe. Having said that, should the country decide to be away from Europe, I don’t think it’s going to impact our business particularly adversely."
We shall see! I suggest thought that regardless of the result, the referendum question has clogged up the wheels of governance. Stuff just isn’t being done. Phil disagrees.
"We are continuing to see Government consultations and proposals for change, which will positively impact consumers. I don’t believe that we’re going to suffer from a lack of Government eye-on-the-ball because of Brexit."
I ask Phil for an overview based on his career so far. He obliges.
"I’ve been in this job for long enough to have worked with a majority Labour Government, a coalition-Conservative Government, and now a majority Conservative Government. If there’s one thing that can be said, it would be that a majority Government does give an extra good degree of certainty over a coalition one.
"From a certainty perspective, it’s easier to work with majority Governments than with coalition ones. I make no distinction between a majority Labour and a majority Conservative Government here. But regardless of political colour, or size of majority, we’ve never had any difficulty engaging with Governments. Provided you’ve got an articulate case, provided you can evidence why it is you are speaking to Government, and the reasons, you are fine."
Finally. What’s one thing our readers wouldn’t know about Phil that he’s happy to share?
"I am a sports nut. I follow sport of every persuasion, particularly when it involves a ball. I’m a keen American football fan, and I’m a follower of the Washington Redskins, which is not something I would necessarily crow about, given their many seasons of relative obscurity. I’ve now been to 20 of the 32 NFL grounds in the US. And given that the New York Giants share their ground with the New York Jets, you could say that I’ve now got only 11 grounds to go."
On which note, we decide to play Offence, and we attack our food.
Leek followed by Dover sole
Leek followed by pork chop
With salad and chips