After 33 years at the CBI – and five as its director-general – John Cridland reflects on the business issues that have marked his tenure.
I am really excited about the launch of the new Business Voice. It will be brimming with exclusive interviews, features and insight on the issues that matter to members.
The timing of the relaunch certainly gives me the opportunity to reflect on the important issues that have marked my time at the CBI.
In many ways the mission of the CBI is the same as it was when I joined in 1982 – delivering prosperity for all. But the way we deliver that mission has got more complicated. In addition to speaking to politicians and the media, we now need to speak directly to the public.
One of the things I’m most proud of is the launch of the Great Business Debate, which gives us the chance to do just that. In October, for example, I shared the platform with Dr Rowan Williams to debate whether business is paying its share of tax. Such events will play an important part in the long journey to building trust in business – but there is still a lot more to do.
I have had the privilege to speak for 190,000 businesses. And I am confident to say that the vast majority of British businesses are responsible, living up to their licence to operate that has been given to them by society. But every set back and corporate scandal is a big disappointment to me.
Another of my proudest achievements is sitting on the Low Pay Commission, which in 1999 gave one million people a 25 per cent pay rise, without people losing jobs – because it was set at the right level.
Now I’m leaving at a time when the prospect of a National Living Wage is a big worry to business. It’s a laudable objective, but a wage increase of 7.5 per cent next year followed by increases of around 6 per cent each and every year to 2020 are a gamble, when forced productivity growth means replacing people with automation. It could cut off routes of progression for unskilled youngsters and women returnees seeking to re-enter the labour market.
And giving young people the skills they need to succeed in the world of work remains a challenge businesses must rally around. Some school education remains a drag on economic performance. Businesses need to get involved in primary schools; they need to help deliver better careers advice earlier – and I firmly believe more needs to be done to offer better vocational and technical routes to children aged 14-18.
But, importantly, I am leaving feeling optimistic about the state of the economy. Throughout my five years as director-general I have watched it heal. I have championed medium sized businesses, my Mittelstand, and although I’m conscious of downside risks globally, I am convinced they will become more significant exporters.
The UK is in a good position – and from that, I have every confidence that the CBI – and the businesses it represents – can go from strength to strength.
It has been a pleasure to have worked with so many members over the years. I wish Carolyn, as your new director-general, and Paul Drechsler, as president, all the best at this exciting time for British business.