Targeted action to boost skills, develop physical and digital infrastructure and attract fresh investment will be vital if all parts of England are to build back better from the economic ravages of coronavirus, says a new report from the CBI.
The CBI’s Reviving Regions paper, sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group, highlights long-standing regional inequalities across England which limit growth and opportunity and inhibit productivity.
It says the disparities in economic performance are large, both across England and within regions, and warns they are at risk of widening further if Government levelling-up ambitions falter in the wake of Covid-19.
The paper calls for a long-term strategic vision which can guide the country through a vital post-Covid recovery and towards long-term prosperity by addressing key challenges in growing skills, enhancing connectivity and attracting investment.
Underpinning all of this is a call to empower local and regional leaders to create a culture where businesses can operate, invest and grow with confidence.
The report’s recommendations include:
Building vibrant local labour markets: including increasing local capacity to deliver back-to-work programmes alongside a long-term focus on the devolution of adult skills to meet our growing skills and retraining gap.
Transforming local infrastructure to facilitate new ways of working: including a focus on the future of towns and cities, improving digital connectivity, and a wholesale reform of regional funding to ensure a strategic approach to future investment.
Inspiring world-class, innovative businesses to invest in the regions: including short term interventions to help businesses grow, locally designed and delivered business support with a focus on access to exporting opportunities, and interventions to close the gap in regional R&D funding.
The CBI believes the actions outlined in Reviving Regions can mitigate the regional impact of the pandemic and ensure no towns or cities are left behind as the nation looks to rebuild.
However, it stresses that a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot succeed in combating issues which are unevenly spread, and advocates actions being locally and regionally led to ensure they are appropriately targeted.
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “The twin threats of Covid-19 and a potential no-deal Brexit have created a devastating and unprecedented economic challenge. Building back quickly and effectively is essential, but a recovery driven only by limited pockets of productivity is far from a real recovery, and hardly the basis for a brighter future.
“Businesses in every corner of England stand ready and willing to play their part in the economic rebound, but too-often see their efforts hampered by inadequate infrastructure and limited access to skilled workers.
“The Government must therefore prioritise long-term investment in the critical structures, training, and innovation needed to support jobs and quality of life around the UK. This long-overdue levelling-up can lay the foundation for a better, greener and fairer economy for all.”
Jo Harris, one of Lloyds Banking Group's ten Ambassadors for the nations and regions of the UK, said: “Every part of the UK has a vital role in rebuilding the economy and our communities in the wake of this pandemic.
“The CBI’s Reviving Regions report is an important contribution to the debate about how we boost jobs, drive growth and attract investment to our towns and cities so they can play their full part in supporting the national and regional recovery.
“Lloyds Banking Group is committed to helping every part of the UK build back from the effects of the pandemic and many of the themes highlighted in this report echo what we have heard through The Big Conversation, our own programme which brings together political leaders, businesses and policy experts to explore the best road to recovery across the UK.”
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