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Focus on future after Brexit says CBI

Carolyn Fairbairn

CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn called for a focus on the future as the UK left the EU on 31 January, with a relationship with Europe reflecting “shared values”. She said: “Our future prosperity remains connected. Despite the challenges of the last three years, together we have made progress. No deal has been avoided and a year of status quo gives time to shape that new relationship.

“Now the real work begins. It’s time to focus on the future and build a new relationship with Europe. This can reflect our shared values and mutual interest, and support bold global trade ambitions.” 

Make UK chief executive Stephen Phipson welcomed “positive and optimistic” comments from prime minister Boris Johnson about a free trade agreement “with what remains the biggest market for our country’s world class manufacturers”. He said: “We urge both the UK and EU negotiating teams to take a pragmatic approach which delivers an agreement that allows UK industry to thrive on both sides of the Channel and globally. Businesses now need clear and detailed outlines of the Government’s overall trade ambitions which will safeguard its growth ambitions. This is essential for industry to prepare for the new trading relationship which lies ahead.”

 The Health and Safety Executive reminded businesses and staff that safety obligations remained the same. It said “ [The UK is] now in a transition period until 31 December 2020, while negotiations with the EU take place about the future relationship. During this transition period your duty to manage risk in the workplace will not change.”

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health said that Brexit should build on safety standards. Richard Jones, IOSH head of policy and regulatory engagement said: “Any government plans regarding future alignment [should] build on, not erode, OSH standards. IOSH believes that effective regulation and risk management, socially responsible business practices and well-applied international standards can all help support good OSH performance.”

The  CBI set out its demands for the Budget, following the announcement this week that it will be held on Wednesday 11 March, with a call for “bold action on skills, net zero, innovation and infrastructure”. The Budget “offers the chance to turn rising optimism into a surge in investment across the UK.” It said.

Among key proposals included a review of business rates “by the year end” and reform of the Apprenticeship Levy. “The UK’s business rates system puts many parts of the UK economy at a competitive disadvantage. A comprehensive review should reduce the bill on individual businesses,” the CBI said.

“The Apprenticeship Levy is holding back skills investment and adding costs and complexity to businesses at a critical time for our economy and the workforce. An extensive review of the levy to ensure it can support a wider range of training should be launched and completed by the next Budget, later in 2020.”

It called for HS2 to be built in full, alongside a wide range of strategic infrastructure projects, and for the establishment of a new US-style Advanced Research Project Agency (to be accelerated to create a longer term, high risk approach to investment.