After months of politics it’s now time to get back to business.
The dust has settled on the UK general election. We have a Conservative government with a slim majority that has set out its legislative programme with a strong focus on increasing the pace of economic recovery - locking in growth, creating jobs and boosting investment right across the country.
Likewise, it was a jam packed Queen’s Speech last week, firing the starting gun on the European Union debate. But the Government must be careful not to let the debate overshadow the rest of its term; even without the EU referendum there is a packed legislative programme to consider.
The CBI has made it clear that business wants to see a genuinely achievable reform agenda, making the UK and the EU more competitive. That must go hand in hand with other measures to boost growth, like expanding aviation capacity and getting on with HS2 – all of which need to link up with business needs across the country.
It’s vital that alongside the EU Referendum Bill, the Government gets momentum going behind its reform agenda. We must work with our allies to create an EU that does more of what it’s good at, like signing trade deals and completing the single market, and less of what it’s bad at, like interfering in lifestyle issues, such as what type of bottle olive oil can be sold in.
With our positive balance of trade in the North East, businesses and the communities they serve will be keen to participate in the debate as it progresses.
We must also remember the value of the UK is greater than the sum of its parts. The CBI has commended the clear cross-party commitment to devolving more powers while reminding politicians that devolution must not undermine the strength of the UK’s single market.
A single UK market of over 60m people creates opportunities for businesses to grow in all parts of the UK, and is at the heart of what makes Brand Britain attractive to overseas investors. It enables business across the UK to operate under a common set of business taxes, employment law, energy framework and financial regulation.
Some devolution has the potential to promote investment and growth across the whole of the UK by maximising the strengths of our regions and nations as part of the single internal market. But the pace must match the economic consequences: rushing decisions or implementation risks the potential benefits not being realised.
Giving city regions greater control of budgets where they are proving their value is the right approach. With strong and collaborative leadership, the devolution of key powers could accelerate growth across the country. Where there is an economic case for further devolution, business will support it.
So, before any future decisions on further devolution, time should be taken to get settlements right and sound, and economic evidence must be central to any case for additional powers, especially on tax. This should all help to ensure that devolution supports, not shakes, the pillars of the UK single market.
Assistant regional director - North East CBI