CBI urges incoming Prime Minister to forge new partnership with business

CBI president John Allan tells business leaders that new Tory PM needs to repair the UK's battered reputation and bring back 'feel-good factor'

The CBI has urged the next Tory Prime Minister to get behind UK business, singling out the importance of small business as well as corporations.

In a coded message to Boris Johnson – who infamously retorted “f*** business” when asked about big business concerns over Brexit – CBI president John Allan told business leaders in London today that the next Prime Minister needs to “back business” and repair the UK’s reputation with overseas investors.

Allan said: “It’s an opportunity for a new Prime Minister to set an unashamedly pro-enterprise course. To really bring back that feel-good factor. Whether you’re a small high-street retailer or a high-end manufacturer hoping to sell in markets here, Europe and all over the world… that feel-good factor has been absent for too long.

“If the Conservative party wants to claim the mantle of the party of business now is the time to show it. At such a decisive point in our country’s history, if not now then when?”

The employers’ organisation set out a three-point plan as to this new partnership between business and the next Prime Minister:

  • Repair the UK’s reputation – Allan said that international investors are spooked and are starting to look elsewhere. The UK needs to re-establish its reputation for stability.
  • Build a positive, compelling vision for the UK in the years ahead – Theresa May’s ambition to deliver a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 is a positive signal that all of business needs “to put our shoulder to the wheel to achieve”.
  • Support business – business is reforming itself whether it’s with new models of ownership, better employee engagement, addressing pay gaps, or investing in skills. Backing from a new Prime Minister would only help accelerate this.

Johnson too has been making more emollient noises towards business. At the launch of his leadership campaign last week, he spoke about needing to encourage “shopkeepers” as well as “tech wizards and the taxi drivers and yes, the bankers as well”.

The CBI plea to the next Prime Minister comes as the British Chambers of Commerce has slashed its prediction for growth in the UK economy in 2020, blaming a slump in business investment and the deceleration of Brexit stockpiling.

Growth next year is expected to be just 1pc compared with 1.3pc this year, according to the BCC, which represents 53 chambers of commerce across the country.

And the 1pc downgrade (down from the 1.3pc the BCC predicted in March) depends on a smooth UK exit from the EU, which looks increasingly unlikely. The EU has repeatedly stated that the deal signed by Theresa May, the Withdrawal Agreement, is not open for renegotiation. Unable to secure further concessions from the EU, a humiliated Prime Minister would either have to call a snap General Election or go for a second referendum.

Allan said: “It’s no secret that there has been growing business frustration – and frankly, anger – with the Westminster stand-off in recent times. This stand-off has chipped away at our country’s reputation for stability, pragmatism and reliability.

“Brexit has been all-consuming and meant that far too many pressing domestic priorities have barely seen the light of day. Tackling the outrageous regional inequalities in the UK, driving up productivity to create opportunity, and ensuring social mobility does not go into reverse. These are the issues I get up in the morning for.

“The next Prime Minister will take up the reins at a seminal moment for the UK’s prospects. He or she has the mother-of-all-jobs ahead of them. To repair the fabric of our society, so frayed by the turmoil of the last few years.”

Further reading

Tory leadership hopefuls propose major tax reforms for small businesses

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...

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