When the UK government launched its Industrial Strategy green paper at the beginning of the year, it presented an opportunity to reset the partnership between business communities and government, and for them to collaborate on creating conditions for economic growth.
While clearly a lot has changed in politics since then, the need for a long-term vision that sets the scene for lasting growth in the UK has not. If anything, it’s more important than ever.
Experience has shown that piecemeal or on-the-fly planning by Whitehall doesn’t have the meaningful or enduring impact that is needed for real economic success.
The Chamber Network have always recognised the importance of a place-based approach to an industrial strategy, appreciating the role of geography and the comparative advantages it can bring.
Nobody understands the importance of place, and the diverse needs of businesses better than Chambers of Commerce and their members. That is why the BCC’s response to the Industrial Strategy green paper was much more than a top-line letter from us, but rather a coordinated and collective representation of business communities from every corner of the UK.
The Industrial Strategy must recognise that the needs of North East Scotland will be different from those of the Central Belt, and those of the Highlands different from the Borders. The best thing we can do for business confidence, growth and investment is to remove the local barriers and pinch points that stop firms taking risks and pushing ahead.
It’s gratifying to see this vision gain traction, as ministers and officials begin to acknowledge the benefit of a place-based approach.
The Network is playing an important role in shaping this ‘blueprint document’, which will influence the development of businesses for many years in the future.
Of late, there have been too many distractions in Westminster, most notably the General Election and the fallout from the result, but ministers must now return their attention to their day jobs and push ahead with the task at hand.
The formation of the strategy comes at a particularly crucial time, as the UK considers what kind of country it wants to be post-Brexit, and forges new trading relationships with Europe and beyond.
That said, the outcome of trade negotiations will prove irrelevant if the business environment isn’t right here at home.
For the UK to remain competitive and continue to encourage investment from businesses both at home and abroad, there needs to be real and meaningful action on many aspects of our domestic business environment.
The Industrial Strategy is an opportunity to deliver much-needed action on skills and infrastructure projects across the country.
To maximise the role of place in the Industrial Strategy, connectivity is key. There has been welcome progress by the UK government in making decisions on projects which were long-delayed and passed around such as HS2, Heathrow and Hinkley. Delivering the new runway at Heathrow will facilitate greater access for Scottish airports to hubs and services to global destinations. But talk is cheap and business communities still await the breaking of ground and start of construction on these projects, only then can they begin to reap the benefits.
The BCC continues to lobby for action on the upfront costs mounted on companies before they can turnover a pound of profit. The UK government must act on this heavy burden, or risk stymieing investment and creating a barrier to growth.
In the coming years, BCC will be reminding the UK government that it can’t allow all its resources and attention to be directed solely at Brussels. This is not the time to take our eye off the ball here at home, but instead an opportunity to make a clear and ambitious statement about what kind of economy the UK wants to be in the years to come.