Uncertainty over Brexit continues to dominate the news agenda, and has contributed to the anaemic growth of the UK economy. The businesses I speak to across the country are concerned – and clear that getting the best possible EU deal is of vital importance.
However, these same firms are doubly concerned about inertia in Westminster on other key economic matters. Their future business success depends not just on Brexit negotiations, but on the big economic decisions facing the UK.
The Prime Minister has made many speeches on Brexit since taking charge. Yet until recently, high-profile interventions dedicated to the domestic economy have been few and far between.
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While the Prime Ministers speech this week on the industrial strategy was a welcome change, it must be the start of a deliberate, comprehensive push to champion the UKs future growth and success.
The government must get out of first gear, and articulate an economic mission that we can all rally behind. The first step must be to demonstrate the seriousness of that mission by taking radical action to tackle the most obvious barriers to growth in the UK.
Today, along with business leaders across UK every region, I have written to the Prime Minister demanding that the government give equal attention to fixing the fundamentals of the economy as it does to achieving the best Brexit deal.
The sentiment in business communities is clear: a strong Brexit deal wont live up to its potential if our homegrown firms and major international investors do not see the UK as a competitive and dynamic place for business. Put simply, its time to get the basics right.
This means action to stabilise the faltering training system, and reforming the apprenticeship levy, to prevent further declines in the number of people and companies taking up this valuable route to success. Action, too, to set an immigration policy that businesses can use to plug key skills gaps.
It means eliminating the gaps in mobile and digital connectivity that plague parts of the UK, from the City of London to Scottish islands, strangling business productivity and competitiveness.
It is time to deliver major infrastructure projects, from Heathrow and high-speed rail to new power stations, along with fixing the potholes and choke-points that undermine our road network, preventing movement across the country.
It is time to tackle the huge costs and complexities of the UK tax system, which actively discourages investment, risk-taking, and stronger export performance.
The UKs tax collectors and regulators should be directed to support, rather than punish, the SMEs that can drive future growth, and focus enforcement activities on the small number of corporates whose questionable practices damage the reputation of UK business as a whole.
The businesses I speak to week in, week out, are clear. Their appetite for risk, investment, and job creation depends on the confidence that the government is behind them – not just when it comes to Brexit, but also in making the UK the best place in the world to do business.
At a time of unprecedented change, “business as usual” at home is not acceptable. Visible, sustained action to improve the domestic business environment is needed – now.