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CBI chief calls for end to UK’s ‘branch line economy’

Tony Danker: shot at redemption

CBI director general Tony Danker today told business leaders that the UK has a “shot at redemption” after offering areas of the country little more than “benign neglect”.

Responding to the government’s “levelling up” agenda, he said that it cannot be left to the free market, with the regions that suffered from de-industrialisation during the Thatcher years now part of a “branch line economy”.

This year’s CBI conference is taking place over three days, at eight locations across the country.

Speaking in Port of Tyne, Mr Danker, Mr Danker said: “Since the 1980s, we let old industries die – offering little more than benign neglect for what got left behind – it was an economic policy that was ambivalent about levelling down.”

The CBI wants former industrial heartlands, such as the north east of England, to have a role in transitioning to a less polluting economy, with clusters of activity in hydrogen – which could replace gas as a domestic fuel – offshore wind, and carbon capture.

Mr Danker added: “We’ve spent the past decades living with these consequences, but now we’ve got a shot at redemption, a chance to regenerate with nascent industries, such as biotech, space and cybersecurity, emerging in all parts of the country.

“Even more with net zero, which creates a once in a generation opportunity for the UK’s industrial heartlands to lead in this new industrial revolution as they did the last. In hydrogen. Off-shore wind. Carbon Capture. Electric Vehicles and batteries, and other net-zero solutions.

“A chance for these places to be world-leading again. If this isn’t levelling up, I don’t know what is.”

Mr Danker warned against the continued strengthening of the economy around London at the expense of the regions.

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“The truth is that in too many sectors, the UK now feels like a branch-line economy,” he will say, “with the most productive parts of a sector, such as HQs, too often based in London and the south-east, and the branch managers and the back office based everywhere else.”

The CBI is announcing the creation of a commission, the Centre for Thriving Regions, to encourage the creation of hubs of industrial activity.

Two pilot demonstrations will be set up staffed by local, national and multinational businesses and universities or colleges.

Mr Danker called for businesses to be involved in strategy for the regions alongside mayors and central government, making decisions on new investments in universities, airports, or logistics centres.

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