Beckie Hart: Firms ready to play a vital role

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At the start of a new decade, the UK must turn the page on a difficult chapter in our history. 2020 is a chance for a reset, a fresh start and to begin a decade of renewal.

After more than three years of bitter wrangling and paralysis in Westminster, we now have a level of clarity that had been badly missing.

The Prime Minister has won enough support from the country for a decisive mandate to govern. He must use that mandate wisely.

We at the CBI are urging the new Government to get to work rebuilding confidence and ending the cycle of uncertainty that businesses have had to face in recent years. And firms across the UK have a simple message: we’re here to help.

British business is committed to real change in our country; to play our part in building a nation that is fairer and more prosperous.

A global Britain that can succeed in the world and improve lives at home. Only through an unbreakable partnership between business and Government will we be able to tackle the pressing issues of our age.

We need to start by admitting that the relationship between business and government has not been as strong as it needs to be. Even strained in recent times.

We can and must change if we are to face the defining tasks of our generation: reducing inequality across the country, tackling the climate crisis, and giving everyone the skills they need in a world of transformational technology. The work needs to start now.

Firstly, the Prime Minister must work his socks off to get the best possible deal with the EU. One that supports jobs and growth by maintaining close alignment to our nearest neighbours. The Government is now in a position to pass its withdrawal agreement with a minimum of fuss.

This should be done at the earliest opportunity so talks on the future relation-ship can begin in earnest this year. The Government has set itself the tightest of timetables – and we’ll work hard to help them meet it – but they must be flexible enough not to box themselves in. Beyond Brexit, the Prime Minister will undoubtedly bring his characteristic energy to the agenda. Business shares that sense of urgency and is ready to roll its sleeves up.

To that end, the UK must use the COP26 in Glasgow as the platform to establish itself as a global climate change leader. Businesses back the Government’s world-leading net-zero emissions target and now it’s time to not just start that journey here, but also persuade others to follow.

Thirdly is to make good on long-standing campaign pledges to level up our country and reduce the blight of regional inequalities; to give people and places in all corners of the UK a better chance in life and higher living standards.

Improved infrastructure is probably the most important factor to regional renewal and so better transport links and connectivity, including HS2 and rolling out the 2025 broadband vision, will be vital to many regions of the UK.

Businesses are keen to work with the Government to reshape the world of work to keep up with changing technologies. We know around nine in ten workers will need reskilling by 2030 at a cost of around £130bn. We can invest to meet this challenge.

But as we enter 2020, the country needs an honest broker partnership between business and government. We need boldness, the confidence to tell politicians where their ideas are wrong, and where business thinking can improve them. And vice versa on where business falls short.

We must also go beyond criticism and offer coalition. It has been the UK’s strength for generations and can be again. Now is our chance to re-set the political conversation, get to work, and make the 2020s a decade of new partnership.