With online platforms replacing conference halls this year, party conference season has been like no other. During party conference season, and over the past few weeks, the CBI has continued to work tirelessly on the issues that matter to business. This includes meeting senior Ministers to discuss the latest response to COVID-19, engaging the Chancellor ahead of his Winter Economic Plan, and outlining the need for compromise during the recent round of UK-EU negotiations.
Business and government partnership through the pandemic
With COVID-19 cases rising across the UK, and local restrictions impacting many firms, this week the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, joined the CBI’s webinar alongside CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn.
During the webinar, Carolyn praised the collaboration between business and government throughout the pandemic and highlighted the CBI’s response to the Prime Minister’s Conference speech.
Mr. Hancock welcomed the business communities’ efforts throughout the pandemic and praised how firms responded to the government’s calls for PPE production. The Health Secretary went on to discuss how business can engage with test and trace, and what firms can do to support the government’s efforts on tackling the virus.
Ensuring firms are supported throughout the Autumn
As highlighted by Carolyn and the Health Secretary during this week’s webinar, the partnership between business and government throughout the pandemic has been vital. The success of this collaboration was epitomised by the Chancellor’s Winter Economic Plan.
Prior to the Chancellor’s announcements, Carolyn met with Mr. Sunak to discuss the CBI’s proposals for further cashflow support, and to secure a successor to the Job Retention Scheme. Following this meeting, the CBI worked tirelessly with Treasury officials, and Carolyn met with the Chancellor prior to his statement. The Chancellor’s plan included a new Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) and action on cashflow concerns, particularly an extension of loan schemes and VAT deferrals.
While the CBI welcomed the Chancellor’s announcements, believing measures will save thousands of viable jobs, more support may be required. The CBI is continuing to engage with the Treasury and is urging the government to remain agile in its response, particularly as the business evidence changes.
Going forward, the CBI is doing some thinking about further policy recommendations that may be required to help support businesses further. Emerging cross-economy priorities include support for employers with the cost of worker absence, targeted business rates relief, and potential grants to firms where the COVID-19 impact is clear and demonstrable.
Further to these priorities, the CBI is also looking at how best to support sectors who are closed or have severely restricted demand, by enabling them to re-open in a Covid secure way.
Highlighting the importance of securing a trade deal
While COVID-19 continues to impact firms, Brexit remains a top, and growing, priority for many.
With the October deadline for reaching a deal fast approaching, firms are increasingly concerned about the lack of business preparedness for the end of transition. This was echoed in the CBI’s September Growth Indicator which found only 4% of firms said they would prefer no deal to be agreed on trade. It also found that half of firms’ preparations for when the transition period ends have been negatively affected due to COVID-19.
Prior to the ninth round of negotiations, the CBI has been leveraging the relationships built with the UK government during the pandemic to have frank and honest conservations with Ministers and officials.
The CBI has recently met with the Prime Minister’s Chief Adviser, Lord Lister, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove. During these meetings, the CBI stressed the need for compromise from both sides during the negotiations. This was a point also stressed by Carolyn at a meeting with the Chief Negotiator for the EU Council special taskforce, Didier Seeuws.
Over the next few weeks, the CBI will continue to communicate the value of a deal, which will allow businesses to focus on rebuilding the economy and prepare for a new relationship with the EU. The CBI will also continue to support members with the latest intelligence, alongside helping you prepare for changes that are coming – deal or no deal – through the CBI’s UK transition hub.
Securing the UK’s long-term competitiveness
Finally, ahead of the CBI’s International Trade Conference, Carolyn met with Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade, and President of the Board of Trade.
As well as discussing the upcoming conference, which Ms. Truss will be speaking at, Carolyn discussed the CBI’s upcoming report, Partnership for Prosperity, which highlights the importance in partnership between business and government in trade policy. Carolyn also welcomed the CBI’s reappointment to the Strategic Trade Advisory Group, and the pair discussed developments in the trade negotiations with US and Japan.
With Ms. Truss also serving as Minister for Women and Equalities, Carolyn highlighted the CBI’s involvement in the new diversity and inclusion campaign, Change the Race Ratio. This campaign calls for all businesses to set and publish clear targets for greater racial and ethnic diversity at board and senior leadership levels.