Dianne Sharp: UK businesses cannot afford a power vacuum after the election

Regional director of the CBI calls on new Government to commit to the EU but see ambitious reform of it

Dianne Sharp
Dianne Sharp

We’re 37 days away from the climax of one of the most unpredictable general election contests in living memory.

The weeks ahead will be absorbed by debates on the electoral arithmetic and its potential implications. With the polls incredibly close there’s a strong possibility of a hung parliament.

Whether we have a majority, minority or coalition Government, we ask those involved to ensure that the period of post-election uncertainty is kept to a minimum. UK businesses and households cannot afford a power vacuum that delays urgent policy decisions and unsettles potential investors, so any new Cabinet must get down to business as soon as possible.

Our economy is now in a relatively good position with CBI predicting growth of 2.7% in 2015, and set to continue at 2.6% next year. The growing number of jobs coupled with early signs of a pickup in people’s wages are encouraging and we continue to outperform our European counterparts.

While the economy has strengthened, political uncertainty has grown. But whatever the make-up of the new Government it will need to address the big challenges the UK faces.

Business wants to see swift action on key economic priorities, including staying on top of the public finances with a Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). We need to make the savings required to cut the deficit while prioritising investment and innovation.

Alongside this we need to create the right environment to get new infrastructure built, showing the appetite to make big decisions by committing to the final proposals of the Airports Commission and boost our aviation capacity so as not to fall behind our international competition. For the long-term it’s time to put in place a new system through an independent body who can map the UK’s future infrastructure needs and how they can be met.

Crucially, to increase opportunities for more young people the first 100 days should be used to kick start meaningful changes to education for 14-18 year olds. The new government should launch a review of exams, curriculum and school structures which will set out a path to scrapping GCSEs and creating vocational A-levels, so that in time the options for young people reflect their aspirations and the needs of our economy.

Underlying all of this we must embrace openness which has always been at the root of Britain’s success – to trade, people, investment and ideas from abroad, and of competitive markets here at home. An early indicator will be the new government’s engagement with the European Union and setting out an ambitious, achievable reform agenda for the whole EU.

While every government enters office with a vision, successfully translating this into change on the ground is tough. Politicians need to give as much attention to the delivery of policies as the ideas themselves – success will be judged upon promises being kept.

Finally, the new government will need to recognise the radical transformation necessary to deliver better outcomes for users of public services with less government resources.

These are the benchmarks against which the business community will assess the government’s early progress, regardless of who holds the keys to Number 10.

If the policy decisions taken foster a pro-enterprise environment, businesses will get on and create jobs and growth. That way we’ll get the new parliament and the country off to the best possible start, and on course for a better Britain.

Dianne Sharp

Regional director - North East

CBI

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