Put simply, ahead of the local elections, voters need all political parties to focus on going for growth. The latest figures for the economy paint a worrying picture following the bounce at the start of the year. Short-term challenges have ramped up since, with a growing cost-of-living crunch hampering growth. Prices are rising at the fastest pace in decades. Businesses are also grappling with headwinds from the Ukraine conflict, which is exacerbating cost pressures and supply chain disruption.
The stark reality is that while the Chancellor’s Spring Statement did take steps to boost confidence, it didn’t deliver enough to help firms tackle the current challenges. What we need now is a relentless campaign for economic growth and productivity. With growth so scarce, central government cannot be the only source of solutions for raising living standards. That’s why the incoming South Yorkshire Mayor must put plans for economic growth at the heart of their future ambitions.
Businesses are keen to work alongside whomever becomes mayor to help build thriving communities by improving educational attainment and attracting investment. In a business manifesto published earlier this week, the CBI identified actions to overcome skills shortages, improve infrastructure and boost productivity, which is the only sustainable route to raising people’s wages.
As a region, we are blessed with unique strengths which we can put to good use. Amid the rich cultural and tourism offer are other gems such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham. It’s a great example of how academia and business can work successfully in partnership; using innovation to drive growth built on excellence in research and development and our flourishing universities.
Improving educational excellence lies at the heart of this endeavour, as does creating career pathways for all members of the community. Businesses need access to skills and labour to succeed. That is why the CBI places such importance on working with the new mayor to tailor training needs to the local labour market, enabling more people to get higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs while hopefully stemming the flow of skills leaving South Yorkshire.
Boosting regional growth must also be sustainable, with a focus on the longer term. That means connecting communities in a way that supports the environment by developing integrated public transport plans. In short, improving people’s access to education, training and employment.
Building Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, along with the Eastern leg of HS2, remain priorities. Infrastructure is also about super-fast fibre so ensuring our digital connectivity is reliable and truly market leading is the best way of supporting the hybrid working revolution already under way.
The simple truth is that we also need to build more houses. Families need them. Filmmakers need them. Forge workers need them. We must incentivise innovation in construction to build better, lower carbon homes at pace. And, as we now know, retrofitting older homes to make them more energy efficient was missing from the Government’s recently launched energy strategy. After all, decreasing energy demand is critical amid uncertain and expensive supply. So, alongside increasing housing availability, the next mayor must explore ways to accelerate the region’s move to net zero.
There are levers for the new mayor to pull, starting by developing a comprehensive strategy incorporating housing, transport, skills and planning to really shift the dial. Short-term, working with business by incentivising firms to accelerate their decarbonisation plans will pay dividends, with SMEs assisted as much as possible.
Underpinning all these ambitions must be an unswerving focus on delivery. That comes with acknowledgement that to really get things done you need funding, backed up by local and central government working in tandem, with business. The mayoral election comes at a critical time. But nothing will happen without a laser-like focus on sustainable growth.
- Beckie Hart is CBI Director for Yorkshire and the Humber. The CBI and partners will be running a hustings for South Yorkshire mayoral candidates from 2.30-5.30pm on April 29.