Unlock competitiveness and work with business, as next year will define UK for a generation, says CBI Director-General

The next government must set the UK on course to tackle the biggest challenges of our day: giving every young person the skills for a changing world; reducing the blight of inequality across our country; and tackling the climate crisis. This will require a more inclusive form of capitalism than ever before, and business is ready to play its full part, the CBI will say.

Launching ‘A Programme for Prosperity’, the CBI’s manifesto for all party leaders, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said:

“Whoever is in power after the election, the top priority must be to work with business to provide bolder, better and fairer answers to the challenges facing our country.

“We simply cannot afford another wasted year of political paralysis, indecision and distraction while productivity and investment suffer.”

Stressing the importance of ‘building long-term solutions to long-term problems’, the manifesto outlines steps the next government should take to unlock the UK’s competitiveness, including:

  • Addressing day-to-day concerns that have been neglected, including unreformed business rates, fixing the broken apprenticeship levy and completing vital infrastructure projects including HS2 and Heathrow
  • Establishing a new immigration system which provides access to labour and skills, focuses on contribution, not numbers, and gives business time to adapt
  • Committing to raise UK R&D expenditure to at least 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and set out a timeframe to increase this to 3% over the longer-term
  • Making 2020 a year of action on long term challenges, including a cross-party strategy for achieving Net Zero including heating and transport; a new business/government partnership on the scale of Beveridge to reskill 9 million people by 2030; and a recommitment to local industrial strategies and devolution to tackle regional inequality  
  • Creating an evidence-based policy environment for investment backed by sound, sustainable public finances.

All this can only be achieved by securing a good deal on Brexit: a future relationship based on staying aligned with EU rules where they are essential for frictionless trade and protecting the UK’s world-beating services sector.

Political speakers at the CBI Annual Conference include a Senior Cabinet Minister, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson. Others include Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Climate Change.

Responding to Jeremy Corbyn's CBI speech announcements about the Apprenticeship Levy

MarkDawe 100x100Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said:

“Labour have obviously given careful consideration to reforming the levy and the climate apprenticeships target for a whole term doesn’t seem unrealistic.  These apprenticeships are vital for the future and we support investment in the training of our young people and workforce for this important sector. 

“AELP wants to see large and small businesses in all sectors benefit from the levy which is already being overspent on apprenticeships and therefore we believe that it is premature to start talking about the levy being used for other forms of training.  When all SMEs can start accessing funding from the government’s Apprenticeship Service next year, any levy payer’s unspent levy entitlement should be available for smaller employers to use without the need for the transfer mechanism.  Nonetheless there still won’t be enough funding to meet demand and so we are calling for an additional £1.5bn annual apprenticeship budget for SMEs.”

This year’s Conference is the first to take place during a general election and will be held at the InterContinental London – The O2, with an audience of more than 1,500 business leaders and senior politicians. There will be sessions on how business leads on climate change, mental health, inclusion and diversity in the workplace, and the UK’s place in the world.

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Speaking ahead of the CBI’s Annual Conference, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said:

“The strength of the business-government relationship has underpinned the UK’s success for many decades.

“It has driven progress at home, from the building of the Channel Tunnel to the development of renewable energy to address climate change. It has helped to make the UK the leading destination in Europe for foreign investors, with total investment worth $1.9 trillion and supporting millions of jobs.

“But this relationship is being questioned. Too many people have lost faith in a system they don’t see working for them. In response, ideologies from both the left and right have emerged to fill the gap, pushing debate to extremes and offering superficial fixes to complex problems.

“And we are seeing the results. Public faith in our politicians and institutions continues to erode, the historic partnership between business and government is under strain. Business investment has fallen for 18 months and productivity growth remains stubbornly sluggish. Confidence in the UK is faltering.

“This cannot continue. But it is within our power to change it.”

Speaking about what business wants to see from the next government, Carolyn will say:

“The starting point must be long-term solutions to long-term problems. Use the combined skills of enterprise and politics to set out clear strategies to make education fit for the pace of technology change, tackle the climate crisis, and ensure all parts of the UK can share in growth.

“But lasting solutions will only work if business is thriving. So the second step must be urgent action to make the UK business environment more competitive. Show the world UK policy is constant, reliable and driven by evidence of what works. Progress relies on profit, and profit relies on the environment the government sets.

“Third, champion good and responsible business. Firms are showing, more than ever, that profit comes with purpose. Business is here to provide great jobs, invest in communities and meet the expectations that society rightly has of them. This is already true of hundreds of thousands of firms across the country. Now it must be true of every firm.

“All this can be achieved by securing a Brexit deal that protects our economy. Firms large and small are clear that leaving the EU with a deal is the best way forward.”

On the importance of making right choices for the country and its economy, Carolyn will say:

“Standing here as 2019 ends, I don’t think the crossroads could be more clearly signposted.

“As a country, we could take the path of extreme ideologies — massive deregulation, on the right, or massive state intervention, on the left.

“Or we could take a different road.

“Rediscover a sense of common purpose.

“Unite around the challenges that connect us - and then get on with tackling them, together.

“Whoever collects the keys to 10 Downing Street after the election, 2020 will be the most important year in a generation.

“We urge the next government to back this new era of partnership for inclusive capitalism and prove once again that the UK is a world-beating place to start, invest and work in a business.”

The CBI’s Annual Conference is taking place today (18 Nov) at the InterContinental London – The O2. 

  • A Senior Cabinet Minister
  • Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party
  • Rt. Hon. Jo Swinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party
  • The Most Rev. and the Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Climate Change
  • Alison Rose, CEO Designate, RBS
  • Ivan Menezes, CEO, Diageo
  • Cindy Rose, CEO, Microsoft UK.

The CBI’s Business Manifesto Programme for Prosperity sets out four steps for the next Government to reclaim the UK’s competitive advantage:

  • Build long-term solutions to long-term problems, in partnership with business
    • Invest in people, through education, to give them the skills they need for a modern, digital and rapidly changing economy
    • Develop an action plan, with clear milestones, to match the reality of meeting Net Zero by 2050, making the 2020s a decade of delivery by prioritising the reduction of emissions from transport and buildings
    • Finally realise the full potential of the UK’s regions, recommitting to the Industrial Strategy and ensuring 60% of England is covered by a devolution deal by 2025.
  • Unlock the UK’s competitive advantage, through evidence-based policy that is constant and reliable
    • Introduce a new immigration system, giving companies ample time to adapt
    • Build the right architecture for business engagement on new trade deals with the EU, US and other countries
    • Prioritise reform of the broken business rates system which stifles investment, and increase investment in innovation.
  • Back business as a force for good, showing profit comes with purpose
    • Support firms’ commitment to give every young person meaningful interactions with business at school
    • Back firms to deepen employee engagement
    • Make the UK the most digitally safe place to grow a business.
  • Secure a good deal with the EU

Commit to negotiate a future relationship based on staying aligned with EU rules where they are essential for frictionless trade and protecting the UK’s world-beating services sector.

Read the full CBI manifesto

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