Yesterday, the IOE&IT Daily Update published IOE&IT public affairs adviser Grace Thompson’s analysis of Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s speeches at the CBI Annual Conference
She here looks at the five key policy themes which ran throughout the entire conference.
1. Green Growth
Green growth is certainly an area which the business community is increasingly admitting is essential.
In a panel session dedicated to this, Professor Mercedes Marato-Valer, director of the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre, noted that a whole-system approach to green growth is needed, including looking at decarbonisation throughout supply chains.
Mark Muldowney, Managing Director of the Low Carbon Transition Group within BNP Paribas also made the point that SMEs need to be involved in this.
Throughout various sessions, it was highlighted that Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) considerations are no longer optional.
Almost every panel convener seemed to ask this question: “How do we drive investment into the UK?”
Susan Rienow, UK country president of Pfizer, praised the quality of science in the UK, calling it “outstanding” in terms of attracting inward investing.
However, she countered this by adding that the UK’s market share in research and development manufacturing is currently decreasing and that this was a concerning trend.
Throughout several panel sessions, it was evident that retaining and attracting staff, who could otherwise leave the workforce, will need to be a priority for businesses in the next few years.
Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the CBI, noted that economic inactivity is a big challenge going forward. Creative thinking would therefore be needed to support those with long-term health conditions, caring responsibilities or women facing the menopause.
All these groups are more likely to leave the workplace early if they do not receive adequate workplace support and the UK simply cannot afford this.
A reform of the apprenticeship levy was called for from a number of quarters. Deborah Meaden, of Dragons Den fame, emphasised that an “overhaul” of the system was needed, noting that the failure rate on apprenticeships is high.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, referenced a pilot in Birmingham where bigger businesses could put their unused apprenticeship levy funding into a local pot to help SMEs.
The importance of regional economies is being increasingly recognised, not only by the chancellor in his autumn statement last week, but also by the business community.
Jeni Mundy, global head of merchant sales and acquiring for Visa, spoke of his company’s programme for boosting town economies. She noted that 89% of UK towns still have room for economic growth and urged others to see the potential that lies in that statistic.
Others on the same panel discussing driving UK growth spoke about the need for stronger links between universities and businesses
Street emphasised the importance of retaining local people via businesses, building and refining regional clusters and linking this with an idea of “areas of excellence”, where regions have their own specialties.