It’s important to come away from party conferences with a sense of what we can expect from our political leaders. And they’re one of the best opportunities the CBI has to put our work to the test, find out how our member’s priorities are landing and where we need to react and build on our arguments to ensure the business voice is heard.
There’s no mistaking that we’re gearing up for a General Election. And in every media interview, member meeting and roundtable we were part of over the two weeks, the urgency over what this means for business is getting more and more palpable.
At the Conservative conference
In his speech, the Chancellor doubled-down on the importance of economic stability. And he’s right – growth comes from confidence, and confidence comes from stability. But stability alone won’t deliver the growth we need. Many firms will be looking to the Autumn Statement, and future party manifestos, to answer that all important question – how can we kick start the business investment needed to power up the economy?
Taking the decision to cancel key parts of HS2 isn’t the way to it. Coming on the heels on wavering commitment on ways that will help us deliver net zero it sends a damaging signal about the UK’s status as global destination for investment. Firms across the Midlands and the North have spent the last decade planning for HS2’s delivery. They desperately need the connections and the investment in infrastructure. Yet they are back in a holding pattern – with all the knock-on effects for productivity and competitiveness – while Network North projects are scoped and prepped, let alone delivered.
But as John Foster, our Chief Policy and Campaigns officer, noted in his reflections on LinkedIn, away from the media spotlight, the government’s plan for the economy is becoming clearer, with common themes running throughout the conference.
They’ve identified the five areas where they think the UK can compete to win: clean energy, digital tech, life sciences, creative industries, and advanced manufacturing.
They’ve diagnosed a part of the economy that they want to fix, consistently coming back to the idea that the UK is a great place to start a business, but that we’re not so great at the scale up piece.
And they want to make the UK less reliant on consumer spending and more of an investment economy – banking on institutional investment as the catalyst.
At the Labour conference
Firms were encouraged to hear the Labour party speak so ambitiously about driving up business investment and committing to tackle some of the key blockers to infrastructure delivery. We heard our some of our language and policies played back to us. But here too there’s work to be done on the details and the delivery, particularly around how this adds up to a holistic plan to grow the economy.
And many businesses will have left wanting to understand more about how Labour’s New Deal for Employees would work in practice. We’ve written a separate piece to highlight the main points you need to know about what Labour is planning on work and skills. But we continue to argue that labour market flexibility is a key pillar of the UK’s competitiveness, driving better outcomes for everyone. Fairness is important. But poorly targeted legislation risks damaging a key strength of the UK economy without having the desired effect on living standards. Taking a narrow view of good work, by banning zero hours contracts, risks making labour shortages worse by making it harder to offer the flexible contracts that many people value.
Where do we go from here?
Now the conference season is over, we’re building on our efforts to make sure our members’ priorities are front and centre for policy makers in the run up to the General Election. To build on our asks ahead of the Autumn Statement. To get members in the room as part of our General Election Countdown conference. And to feature in our own business manifesto to be published later this year.
All to help raise the voice of business at such a critical time for the economy.