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CBI president to focus in innovation and infrastructure

08 November 2015

The UK needs to show strong business and political leadership to boost trust, raise national productivity and seize global opportunities, the CBI’s president Paul Drechsler will say at this year’s CBI Annual Conference, taking place tomorrow (Monday 9 November).

CBI president, Paul Drechsler

Speaking to an audience of more than 1,000 business leaders at London’s Grosvenor House, Mr Drechsler will highlight the positive role businesses play in society; he will urge the Government to boost innovation by doubling the funding for Innovate UK by the end of the Parliament, and call for decisive action on infrastructure, including an extra runway. And he will highlight the crucial role of the business view in the EU debate, calling for it to be based on “sober analysis of the arguments, not heated attacks on those making them.”  

Calling for leadership on business reputation, Mr Drechsler will highlight the positive story business has to tell, with more than two million people employed since the recession and £175 billion paid in taxes last year:

“Last year, the UK was the fastest-growing G7 economy.  And this year, growth is on a firm footing. But this recovery didn’t just happen, it has been a real team effort. 

“Looking ahead, strong leadership from politicians and business will be crucial to the UK’s long-term success. Both at home and abroad, we need to raise our ambition for growth and jobs. 

“This future will be built on business responsibility, powered by national productivity and expanded through global opportunity.” 

Arguing that education is a basic human right, Mr Drechsler will say with millions of children in the UK living in poverty last year, “the only way to change this is making sure that every child, from every background, in every part of the UK gets a world-class education.

“That means even more firms building bridges between the classroom and the boardroom, and supporting head teachers and leaders in education in a system where the right behaviours and experiences are just as important as the right grades.”

On driving up national productivity, Mr Drechsler will call for leadership to boost innovation and infrastructure, urging the Government to get on with the building an extra runway in the South East:

“Productivity is the ‘magic ingredient’ for improving living standards - spreading growth to all people, in all parts of the UK.

“In recent years, we have seen some progress; yet at the moment – we are falling behind the global competition.  Innovation – in particular – is the beating heart of productivity.  But today, we rank 7th in the EU for innovation, 34th in the world for Government procurement of advanced technology and last in the G8 for Government R&D spending.

“To become an “innovation leader”, we will need to double Innovate UK’s funding by the end of this parliament, with the ambition of tripling it in the longer-term.”

Welcoming the creation of a National Infrastructure Commission, which the CBI had called for, he will say:

“The Commission is a chance to end the cycle of politicisation and procrastination that has plagued British infrastructure for decades; however, we must not duck infrastructure decisions which must be made right now. 

“On airport capacity, we need strong political leadership and decisive action from Government. Britain needs that new runway, so let’s get it built.”

Calling for leadership to seize global opportunities, including in securing ambitious EU reform and more global trade deals, Mr Drechsler will argue: “To win globally, we’ll need to seize the best opportunities - wherever they may be. 

“Yet even today – exactly 26 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – some still see the world as an either/or choice.  Between East or West. Between emerging markets or established partners. Between the Continent or the Commonwealth.

“Yet my question today is - why choose between one or the other when we can have it all?  Europe will be a big part of this.

“With the coming referendum, Britain faces a decision about its future. One thing is for sure – the business view will be crucial.

“And over time business leaders should let their employees, communities, customers and suppliers know what the referendum means for growth and jobs.

“Whilst there’s no uniform view on the subject – neither within the CBI, nor among the wider business community, the majority of CBI members want to remain in a reformed EU.

“The majority of our members think that – on balance – the advantages of EU membership outweigh the disadvantages. 

“And when we see the reforms the Prime Minister achieves – and expects to achieve over time - we will ask you again for your views.

“Of course - we know that Europe is far from perfect.

“New regulation must be a last resort, not a first response.

“And further integration in the Eurozone isn’t something the UK wants to be part of.”

Highlighting the trade benefits that EU membership gives the UK, Mr Drechsler will say that negotiating with the weight of 500 million citizens helps Britain be part of more deals. 

“Today, EU membership covers about 60% of the UK’s global trade, but we can do even better. ‘Sealing the deal’ on all current negotiations would mean the EU and its trade deals would cover 88% of the UK’s global trade - from Tampa in the West to Tokyo in the East.  What a great opportunity for British exports.”  

Responding to recent attacks on the CBI’s role in the EU debate, Mr Drechsler will say: “The great British public deserves a debate based on a sober analysis of the arguments, not heated attacks on those making them.”

“Yet over the last week we’ve seen a series of systematic and sustained attacks with one aim – undermining the credibility of the CBI to speak for you – our members.

“Our critics are saying we’re EU funded…0.6% of our income does come from the European Commission, which chooses to use our top-quality economic surveys as part of its work to collect robust economic data from across Europe.

“Our critics say our 2013 survey doesn’t represent the full spread of the business community. That’s right. It was a member survey - although the respondents employ 1.5 million people between them.

“We’re proud to represent businesses of all sizes – from 140 Trade Associations made up of mostly smaller firms, to medium-sized businesses and most larger FTSE players.

“We’re proud to champion businesses from all sectors – brewers, engineers, creative industries – and indeed farmers.

“And we’re proud to speak for businesses employing nearly 7 million people – about one third of the private sector workforce.

“So whilst some think we should be quiet, we know we have a legitimate right to speak out – loud and clear – on all the issues that matter to our members.”

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