On Tuesday, CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn joined other business leaders at a meeting with business minister Sajid Javid. Their message to government was clear: they need a plan – and leadership
Since the referendum last week, the CBI has spoken to hundreds of its members – and there are high levels of real and very genuine concern from businesses of all sizes, in all sectors, up and down the country. There are many questions to answer. And this is a time when information really matters.
On Tuesday, I joined 35 other business organisations in a meeting with business secretary Sajid Javid, to start what will be a crucial dialogue with government. This was a first step to understanding the government’s priorities and making business priorities known. It was needed to get a sense of where the required leadership will be coming from.
There was a recognition that business needed to get on with it, think practically and find solutions
Several key themes emerged from the business leaders in the room – not least the shared depth of concern. But there was also recognition that business needed to get on with it, think practically and find solutions.
But for them to do that, we demanded a clear and vocal commitment that Britain is still open for business, as an outward facing country and a successful trading nation. We need a period of over-communication with partners all over the world to ensure that message is heard.
We called for commitment to develop a plan around what kind of deal we could have, based on the principles of ongoing access to the single market, to skills and to free trade agreements with other countries.
We urged government to get on with major infrastructure projects – big projects and regional projects alike. They signal confidence, they create jobs and they will show we have command.
And time and time again came the repeated call that government needed to recognise how scared EU migrants that are working in this country feel about the situation they now find themselves in, worried about their jobs and the lives they have made here. They need security and they need reassurance – and they need it fast.
Of course, sector specific concerns were also raised – from rising prices in retail to volatility in the housing market.
But what any business needs urgently is leadership, from a government that is gripping the agenda
But what any business needs urgently is leadership, from a government that is gripping the agenda. We must have progress on a plan for what happens next and for the new economic relationships that our country needs. And that plan must respect how the devolved nations voted.
A clear and comprehensive framework that represents a genuine partnership between government and business will be critical. Business needs to know how it can actively and regularly engage with government, particularly on sector-specific issues, with one point of contact. We will be looking to our colleagues in business communities to help put that together – because one thing is clear: this isn’t a time for fragmentation.
We support Javid's priorities, who closed the meeting emphasising the need for stability, clarity and action. And we look forward to hearing more detail.
The business world is used to dealing with uncertainty. It will adapt. It will show it can find opportunities. And it can help the government over the weeks and months ahead.
The leaders in the room shared a sense of resolve. But we are a long way off having a plan and real leadership. This is what business needs.
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