Stand out panels for me included those on mental health, social inclusion and net zero and it was great to hear from speakers such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Christiana Figueres, the former chief of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In total about 50 businesses leaders spoke from the platform, all of whom offered powerful insights to solve the challenges that businesses in our region are facing.
For the first time ever, the conference fell in the election period and the delegates got the opportunity to hear from the three main party leaders, all of whom set out their election priorities.
The 190,000 businesses involved in the CBI employ around seven million people and our views on climate change, mental ill-heath or social inequality really do matter and whilst business may not have a vote, it certainly has a voice.
To try and further the debate the CBI launched its ‘manifesto’ for party leaders, called A Programme for Prosperity. Businesses can simply not afford another wasted year of political paralysis, indecision and distraction while productivity and investment suffer.
But my message to the political parties in our region is clear; support business to do what it does best: innovate, drive growth and boost prosperity. After hearing all three leaders I am sure that business holds many of the keys to the future of the UK – and whichever party is in power, business and government must form a determined partnership.
The CBI is warning against dangerous ideology from both sides of the political divide – and we are urging for a return of evidence and fact at the heart of the economy.
As part of her address, Carolyn Fairbairn raised the need for a relentless focus on competitiveness – because the UK was at a real risk of losing out globally. Among the issues that need addressing, she cited industrial strategy, business rates, immigration policy, R&D spend, skills gaps and infrastructure.
And most singled out, was the importance of reskilling the UK’s workforce so that everyone, from every background, was in a position to prosper in the new technology age.
But this is a partnership, so for as much as we have called for change from government, we must add that business has to change too – and work harder to prove that profit goes hand-in-hand with purpose. Businesses are a force for good and we must stand up and shout that from the rooftops.
We have the opportunity, right now, for the partnership of the century between business and the next government. It could achieve so much for everyone in our region. But it must be about getting beyond the divisions and working together. So, to all three leaders who joined us last week, I ask you to work with us. There has never been a more important time.