CBI chief demands action on skills shortage

The head of the UK's largest business organisation called on the government on Wednesday to overhaul the nation's immigration system and to "stop hiking taxes and focus on boosting investment".

graphic illustrating article about skills shortages in the UK
In a wide-ranging speech to the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) annual conference, Lord Bilimoria, the organisation's President, said businesses must have access to the labour force it needs.
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Tackling skills shortages

He said the CBI was pressing the Government to revamp its Migration Advisory Committee, increasing its independence and widening its membership, currently comprising academics and bureaucrats."We would add economists and businesses to the MAC’s membership, to be able to flex and independently activate the shortage occupation list on a periodic basis," said Lord Bilimoria, the founder of the Cobra beer empire. "So, the essential components to keep the UK competitive include action to increase business investment, keep taxes smart, and tackle labour and skills shortages."

Shoring up the UK's competitiveness

His comments - made in Swansea on the final day of the CBI’s first-ever, pan-UK annual conference across six live locations - came a day after the organisation's 2021 Employment Trends Survey showed that 76% of businesses feared access to skills was threatening UK competitiveness.The survey, compiled in conjunction with the Pertemps Network Group, found that while half the firm expected to grow their workforces next year, finding the talent needed, along with the ability to move UK workers across the EU, featured heavily in businesses’ lists of concerns.But Lord Bilimoria pointed to other problems confronting the business community. "The Government have said they want a high-wage, high-growth, high-investment, high-productivity economy. Business agrees. But right now, we are facing a high-tax economy."

Addressing the tax burden

He said burdens included the rise in corporation tax rise from 19 to 25%; the increase in National Insurance contributions by 2.5 percentage points; and the fact UK business rates were higher than in any other G7 country.  "Together, this all adds up to the UK having the highest tax burden in 70 years," he said. "Higher taxes threaten to stifle our recovery. "What we need is to stop hiking taxes and focus on boosting investment. Because this is what will lead to growth, which will lead to more jobs, a higher tax-take and the (national) debt being paid down."  

Sustainable growth

Lord Bilimoria described the UK as "the most amazing country" which must its strengths not only to collaborate at home and abroad, but also to compete on the global stage.He cited the fact that Britain had only one per cent of the world's population but produced 14% of the most highly-cited research papers; was the second largest services exporter; had, with the US, the world's best universities; and was home to the third highest number of tech unicorns in the world."But we cannot be complacent," he added. "Both the UK’s Global Investment Summit and COP26 highlighted that, as we emerge from the pandemic, there is a wall of investment waiting to be deployed to spark sustainable growth.  "So now, our challenge is to create a business environment that will attract and unleash that investment. Because if we don’t, our competitors surely will."If we want to continue to be the sixth largest economy in the world, if we want a high-wage economy, we need to have high skills, high productivity and a high investment economy."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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