I AM writing to you on behalf of the 190,000 firms the CBI speaks for – from start-ups in Newport to multinationals in Newcastle. Together they employ a third of the private sector workforce, and every one of them is driven by a desire to see their company and Britain succeed.
But the last few years have been tough, and it’s no secret that firms’ frustration with Westminster has grown.
I, and our members, want this to change and we have a clear message for the next Conservative leader and future Prime Minister.
Work with us in a new era of partnership to build a post-Brexit Britain that is both prosperous and fair. The UK has so many strengths. Working together, we can approach the future with confidence and optimism.
This partnership should have three goals.
First, show the world the UK is a great place for business. Brand Britain is a powerful calling card. But ongoing uncertainty has raised questions about our stability, and not solely because of Brexit.
Threats of renationalisation, continued doubts over vital projects like Heathrow, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, and unreformed business rates are just a few of the other challenges that make investors think twice.
It’s time to restore the UK’s reputation as the stable and trusted country to start and grow a business.
Second, build a bold and compelling vision for the UK’s future on the world stage. Lift the modern industrial strategy from textbook to reality, so it unlocks the animal spirits of enterprise.
Make it long term and cross-party. Don’t allow it to be torn up every time there’s a change at the top. Ensure every policy and business investment is targeted at the same goals, whether tackling climate change, equipping our young people for the future, or reducing the blight of regional inequality.
Third, back efforts to demonstrate that good business is good for society, that profit and purpose go hand in hand. Business knows it needs to work harder to show it’s a problem solver, not a problem to be solved.
But there’s proof all around us. Building on the example of leading firms, more are making bold changes to improve employee engagement and ownership.
Britain has world-leading numbers of businesses already working in schools to challenge gender stereotypes and build skills for work. Across the country, firms are taking action on issues from prompt payment to pay gaps. Government backing will accelerate this progress.
These are just three of the opportunities we can seize to show how post-Brexit Britain will be a great place to live, work and run a business. But the next Prime Minister can only claim the Conservatives are the party of business if they secure a Brexit deal that protects the economy, jobs and living standards.
Firms large and small are clear that leaving the EU with a deal is the best way forward. Short-term disruption and long-term damage to British competitiveness will be severe if we leave without one. The vast majority of firms can never be prepared for no-deal, particularly our SME members who cannot afford complex and costly contingency plans.
We need compromise, consensus and honesty to resolve the Brexit impasse, quickly. Prolonged uncertainty is damaging our economy now – driving up costs and reducing sales. Stockpiling of raw materials and goods among SMEs is at a record high. Billions of pounds in investment are being diverted from the economy, harming future jobs and prosperity.
The CBI urges the next Prime Minister to build their approach to Brexit from the bottom up – from the clear, detailed evidence of firms, on the ground, managing the day-to-day implications for jobs. Only then will the UK have the foundations for a world-beating economy.
I invite all candidates to meet the CBI and our members to share ideas on how we can work together to build a Britain that’s fit for the future.
Carolyn Fairbairn is director-general of the CBI.