New Year call for change of gear
‘World won’t wait for Britain’ warns CBI chief
Carolyn Fairbairn: ‘the world won’t wait for Britain’
CBI chief Carolyn Fairbairn today calls for politicians to work to business timescales and bring an end to the “different opinion every day” approach to the Brexit process.
Ms Fairbairn, director-general of the lobby group, says many investment decisions have been postponed or halted and businesses at home and abroad are yearning for certainty.
“Certainty, predictability and calmer politics were all on our Christmas wish-list for 2017, but it was not to be,” she says in her new year message for 2018.
“The year soon turned into a rollercoaster ride, full of jaw-dropping twists and turns from the start.”
Ms Fairbairn says firms have responded with resilience but adds that “there’s no doubt” that the impact of uncertainty has taken its toll.
She warns that Britain is slipping behind her competitors and that “the world won’t wait for Britain”.
“While the global economy enjoyed a boom, the UK economy shifted down a gear, with 2017 GDP growth of around 1.5% compared with 2.3% in 2016.
“We know from members that investment was postponed and in some cases halted. Order books for manufacturers ended the year in good shape, but inflation of 3% has bitten on living standards and affected retailers and other consumer firms.
“International investors love doing business in the UK but end the year longing for greater clarity.
“Thankfully the year has ended with some good Brexit news. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the EU Council in mid-December confirmed that trade talks can now begin and a status quo transition has been agreed in principle.”
She tempers this positive end to the year with a warning.
“Even harder work lies ahead. From our politicians we need unity, clarity and certainty, not a different opinion every day. Politics will need to work on business timescales if we are to get the right result for the country.
“We should be under no illusion about the scale of heavy lifting needed in 2018. The world around us is transforming. While the UK is consumed with Brexit, China is building a global infrastructure through One Belt One Road while other nations are seizing the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution.
“The world won’t wait for Britain. We must get on, at speed and with great determination, with adapting our economy for the future.”
Ms Fairbairn said the top priority must be the urgent transformation of Britain’s skills base.
“The clock may be ticking on Brexit but it is ticking just at fast in our schools, colleges, universities and workplaces,” she says.
“The UK is facing a skills emergency. Weaknesses in supporting young people into the labour market have existed for years, but the changing nature of jobs and skill needs have turned the situation critical.
“In parallel, we need more practical action to support innovation in 2018. We will work with businesses and universities to improve the UK’s approach to commercialising the leading-edge research we deliver so successfully.
“At the same time, action is needed to ensure companies adopt tried and tested technologies that will move the dial on productivity. You can expect a drumbeat of activity from the CBI on innovation throughout 2018.”
On infrastructure, she says: “Planned infrastructure projects must be delivered on time and efficiently throughout the year.
“Making progress on the big projects is essential – Heathrow, Hinkley and High Speed Rail. We will keep up the pressure, but local delivery aligned to regional economic plans is equally important. The pipeline is there – now the taps need switching on.”