Posted by

John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce

17 Apr 2015

We are in the middle of the campaign for the most wide open election in recent memory.  Regardless of the overall outcome, businesses need assurance from the incoming Business Secretary that they will adopt a relentless focus on policies that deliver growth, jobs and prosperity for the UK.

Over the life of the next Parliament we face a choice. We can become a more confident, more enterprising, more skilled trading nation – or retreat into a slow but very real decline. For the life of the Parliament and beyond, we need a Business Plan for Britain – with governments across the nations of the UK focusing their attention on creating the best possible environment for growth, aspiration and enterprise.

The BCC’s Manifesto: A Business Plan for Britain focuses on seven key themes that will make a difference for businesses and the economy. It sets out a blueprint for developing the talents of the next generation, supporting long-term business investment, growing Britain’s trade potential, placing business at the heart of local growth, rebuilding Britain’s business infrastructure, driving down business costs and taxes, and delivering an essential new settlement for Britain in Europe. These goals are shared by companies across the UK.

Britain’s success in today’s global economy rests largely on its capability to compete and trade with markets around the world. We face a national challenge to boost UK exports and reach the Prime Minister’s very ambitious £1tn export target by 2020. Part of the Government’s strategy to achieve this demanding target must be to improve the awareness of growth opportunities overseas, helping to break down the fear of exporting and providing easy, practical and non bureaucratic, access to practical support on the ground.

Another priority for businesses is bridging the gap between the world of education and the world of work. The UK’s policy makers and educators have failed to equip our young people with the skills to compete for work in an EU of open borders. While action is being taken to address this, more needs to be done, and quickly. Focusing resources in this area will help local businesses get the talent they need, boost the career prospects of young people, and help to address the growing lack of social mobility in the UK.

If our most promising businesses are to reach their potential – and become Britain’s future business champions – even more needs to be done to improve access to finance. We need to see more competition in banking, better access to bond and equity markets, and crucially, the delivery of non equity, loan capital that our small and mid-sized businesses desperately need. This is crucial to the recovery of companies coming out of recession, to building a resilient mid-sized business sector and to providing the confidence that these businesses need to step into export. 

A  British Business Bank, on a scale that can match the ambitions of our future wealth creators is one important means by which this can be achieved. This sort of radical action will also support our future export leaders, and help tackle Britain’s persistently unsustainable current account performance.

Britain is a great place to do business, particularly relative to its near neighbours. It is likely to remain so, whatever the outcome of this or any future election, or indeed a future referendum.

The business community as a whole will be looking for the next Business Secretary to show strong leadership and deliver meaningful reform. Regardless of the result of the election, I look forward to working closely with the incoming government and Business Secretary to pursue a pro-business policy agenda and make sure that Britain remains well and truly open for business.