National commission call to drive post- COVID recovery

The outgoing Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called for the government to create a National Commission for Economic Recovery to plot a course out of the economic crisis caused by the COVID pandemic.

In her final keynote address as CBI Director-General at the organisation’s annual conference, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn (pic) warned the promise of the next generation can only be protected if government, business and wider society work together to create an economic revival plan.

She added that the UK had to leave the European Union with a deal, adding firms could not act on the basis of “speculation and leaks and surmise”,  and demanded more clarity on the Government’s strategy calling for ministers to improve the coronavirus testing system.

Dame Carolyn added the experience of the pandemic “shows beyond doubt that national unity is the only way to rebuild the UK economy and tackle the totemic issues of our day”.

“Young people are amongst the hardest hit by the devastating economic impact of Covid-19,” she explained. “They face most risk of losing their job, find it hardest to move into new jobs, and are the most affected by long periods of unemployment.

“They are also facing serious interruptions in their education and training. Seven in ten young people feel their life is on hold, while anxiety and depression are on the rise. Urgent action is needed to protect their futures and prevent a lost COVID generation.”

Such was the urgency of the need for a forward thinking plan for the country’s recovery, Dame Carolyn said the government had to take a leaf from their predecessors 78 years ago.

“Just as Churchill commissioned the Beveridge review at the height of the Second World War in 1942, creating the welfare state and supporting several decades of sustained growth, it is now down to the leaders of today to create a revival plan from this historic crisis,” she explained. “The plan should prioritise creating jobs, training and opportunity, particularly – though not only – for young people, through practical partnership. Government alone will be too slow and lack scale; business alone will be too fragmented.”

Her recommendation was for the creation of a new National Commission for Economic Recovery, bringing together business, government, unions, education and other parts of civil society. The Commission should have clear targets and a bold remit to create new approaches for a fair and sustainable revival of the UK economy over the next 12 months.

“The top priority is job creation. The government’s commitment to ‘Build, Build, Build’ provides a good starting point. Many firms are ready to invest, hire and grow, from green retrofitting of homes to accelerating the digital economy. But commitment must be turned into action.

“Economic revival should aim to build a better UK economy not just recreate the status quo. It should target those most in need and support diversity, the UK’s net zero ambition, and levelling up communities. This is what Building Back Better needs to mean in practice.”

Dame Carolyn added England’s second lockdown, which is due to come into force on Thursday will be “truly devastating for business”, with many companies having already invested millions to make their premises COVID-safe.

She added they face a “bleak” winter, continuing: “This is the run-up to Christmas, it’s the most important time for so many firms.”