Paul Drechsler, CBI President, will today (Friday 11 May) highlight the urgent need for progress on the crucial question of what happens next as the UK leaves the EU.
Speaking at the CBI Scotland Annual Lunch, the CBI President will say ‘we need decisions, detail and delivery – the best way is for the UK government to listen to the voice of business here in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK’.
In front of an audience of more than XXX Scottish business leaders, Mr Drechsler will say the best way to protect Scottish firms and jobs is to remain in a customs union with the EU unless or until an alternative is ready and workable.
He will also encourage Scottish firms to pursue exporting with greater vigour, noting that ‘just 70 companies are responsible for half of Scotland’s exports’.
In a speech at The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square, will say:
“So what can we do to help the next 70 firms on that list?
“What we shouldn’t do is turn our back on our closest trading partners - that means the UK, and it means the EU.
“Scotland’s exports are worth £79 billion. £50 billion of that goes to the rest of the UK.
“And with exports worth over £12 billion, the EU remains Scotland’s largest global trading partner.
“Business is committed to making a success of Brexit.
“And our job is to say, loudly and clearly, what making a success looks like.
“And what success actually looks like is what the UK government has already said it wants to achieve.
“Frictionless trade with the EU, regulatory certainty, increased trade with the rest of the world.
“So business needs the three D’s on Brexit - that’s decisions, detail and delivery.”
On the need for the UK government to rely on evidence, not ideology, Paul will say:
“First, that we must prioritise our relationship with the EU.
“48% of our export goods go to the EU and 78% of our exporters sell into the EU.
“Protecting that trade has to be our number one priority.
“Even if we signed Free Trade Agreements with the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand tomorrow, it would account for less than 3% of our total trade in goods and services.
“To do the same with Brazil, Russia, India and China would achieve even less - just 2%.
“Second, the evidence says we can do both - trade with the EU and with the rest of the world.
“Germany already does 4.7 times more trade with China than we do, without a free trade deal and from within a customs union.
“We don’t need to cast aside established EU partners for potential riches beyond.
“What we do need is a better solution, one that fulfils the Government’s own objectives of frictionless trade and no Irish border.
“Third – and finally – the evidence says that there’s also far more to trade than Free Trade Agreements.
“There’s plenty we can do to improve trade right now - direct flights, trade missions and improving export finance.
“And that’s just for starters.
“Whereas if we lose access to the single market, it could reduce UK trade by up to 30%.
“All the evidence suggests that being in some form of customs union with the EU, alongside a deep relationship with the single market and an open approach to migration is the best thing for business.
“That’s evidence, not ideology.
On the need for improvements to education, Paul will say:
“There’s probably no better example of what education can achieve than Scotland.
“The enlightened thinking that took place here shaped the world for centuries to come.
“Even the square we stand in today was designed by an Enlightenment architect - Robert Adam.
“Nowhere else has so many world class universities in such close proximity.
“But these assets need nurturing and protecting.
“There’s now a question mark hanging over Scottish education.
“Universities are telling us they’re starting to struggle to attract overseas talent.”
“And schools are falling down the league tables for maths, reading and science.”
“This should not be happening.
“With spending per pupil among the highest in the world, Scotland should be producing a workforce that can rival anywhere on earth.”
On immigration, Paul will say:
“But that’s a lot to put on their shoulders alone.
“That’s why we need to attract talent from overseas too.
“Now immigration sounds complex. But is in fact simple.
“We need an immigration system that does three things; protects the integrity of the UK market; gives Scotland the flexibility it needs and sends a clear message that Britain is open for business.”
On innovation, Paul will say:
“Innovation is at the heart of progress, whether it’s economic, social or cultural.
“It doesn’t have to be complex either. t could be a simple as adopting better technology or training managers to get the best out of their staff.
“It’s about being creative and open to change.
“Seizing new opportunities wherever they arise.
“Scotland has a great innovation ecosystem.
“It has the potential to become world-class.
“But it could just as easily fall behind.
“Scotland spent just 1.45% of GDP on R&D in 2015, less than the rest of the UK.
The CBI has campaigned to increase that target, but even with that in place, more needs to be done.
“Scotland’s universities are a cracking example of what Scottish education can achieve.
“Let’s make them as good as they can be.
“Schools, innovation, and immigration - on all these crucial questions, let’s make sure we’re giving the right answers.”
On infrastructure, Paul will say:
“From lighthouses to ships, Scots have always come up with ingenious solutions to the great challenges of the age.
“While the Cutty Sark may live in Greenwich, Scots know it was built in Dumbarton – on the Clyde.
“But now we need modern day infrastructure to rival the legacy of Stevenson and Telford.
“The Queensferry Crossing made a bold statement, but it can’t just be individual projects.
“We need a vision of what the next generation of infrastructure looks like.
“Nine in ten firms see digital networks as crucial to securing investment.
“That’s why we support the Scottish government’s plan to make superfast broadband universal by 2021.
“Ambitious, yes – but absolutely necessary.
“Because connectivity isn’t just about computer speeds.
“It’s fundamental to how people live their lives and how people run their businesses.”