British firms need action, certainty, and clarity. Over the last few years companies have had to deal with unprecedented challenges, from a global pandemic to Ukraine. Right now, interest rates are continuing to rise, inflation remains high, and the labour market is incredibly tight.
Against that backdrop, we’re heading into the long run-up to an election. I’m often asked what we want from politicians. And it’s simple – partnership that helps businesses and the economy grow.
The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) works closely with all parties every day, at a national and local level. We sit at the heart of a network of 53 accredited chambers of commerce across the UK, representing thousands of businesses in all sectors.
Our key principles for engagement with politicians were recently outlined in our document The Power of British Business. It’s a framework for the future, and it will be at the heart of our conversations during party conference season. The framework has three key principles – a properly functioning public realm, targeted intervention, and a clear strategic direction.
The public realm needs to function properly for business and the government to work together to deliver services and drive prosperity. Good schools, hospitals and transport infrastructure help the businesses we represent. Just take the unfolding concrete situation at schools as an example: we need kids in school so parents can work, while their youngsters are prepared for the world.
At the same time, political intervention needs to be targeted to have the biggest impact. New regulations and public investment should not crowd out private investment.
Businesses need certainty, particularly in these challenging times. Politicians should send clear, long-term signals to firms. That gives companies confidence to invest and plan ahead.
That’s the overall vision we want from politicians. But what about policies? We have four key asks ahead of the party conferences, which will help us on the road to greater economic growth: action on planning, the apprenticeship levy, UK-EU cooperation, and the national grid.
First, we need a better, simpler and faster planning system. Thriving communities require good business and employment, but firms are being squeezed out by a system that doesn’t work.
Second, as we all look to improve skills and training, the apprenticeship levy needs to be more flexible. Employers want to train more people, but they need the right funding from government. Amending the rigid structure of the apprenticeship levy would enable employers to upskill their own workers and boost productivity. We are clear – investing in people is crucial to a more prosperous economy and a workforce ready for tomorrow.
Third, as business adjusts to a post-Brexit landscape, politicians should be encouraging strong UK-EU cooperation to increase bilateral investment. Whether on trade, security, equality or the environment, the UK can achieve more through working with European counterparts, and there is great potential to strengthen our collaboration on regulatory and common policy challenges.
Fourth, politicians need to make sure there is sufficient network capacity and flexibility to deliver energy needs fit for net zero. Innovative companies that want to lead the way in using green technology are, in some cases, being told to wait up to 15 years for grid access. Businesses are also being prevented from capturing a global market share in new green industries worth an estimated £1trn by 2030 – which would create tens of thousands of new jobs. But there’s no clear green energy plan.
So as the clock ticks down to the general election, it’s vital that the voice of business is heard as manifestos are drawn up. Our new BCC Business Council is bringing together some of the UK’s leading firms to help us shape policy that can benefit companies whatever their size, and wherever they are based. When politicians and business work together in partnership we can achieve the economic success everybody wants.
This piece first appeared in a Spotlight special print edition on economic growth. Read it here.[See also: The gender wealth gap is hurting the economy]