Beyond Brexit: CBI puts next generation centre stage

Skills, talent and young people were all headline news at the annual conference, despite the presence of PM Theresa May and the rather pressing matter of the EU withdrawal agreement.

Young person on stairs
Closing this year’s CBI Annual Conference, CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn said a standout theme was the importance of the domestic agenda beyond Brexit.“Getting the right Brexit deal will dominate the coming weeks but we can’t afford to lose sight of the domestic agenda,” said Ms Fairbairn. “At the heart of that is people. We need a focus on jobs, skills and investment.”

Moving forward

Commending delegates and panellists, who “didn’t let the EU negotiations dominate the day,” she spoke of the importance of diversity and the next generation of talent in running a successful business, which panellists like Alistair Cox from Hays, Warren East of Rolls-Royce, Valerie Todd of Siemens, Josh Graff of LinkedIn discussed throughout the session programme.“If there is one theme that stands out above all others then that really is about the next generation and the young people we’ve heard from today," said Ms Fairbairn. "They will be the leaders in the future and they are challenging us now in the way we operate.“It’s about a sense of purpose. Today, this is what it has really brought to the fore. We don’t want to go backwards. This is about looking forwards and creating a great economy that allows everyone to succeed.”

The view from the opposition benches

Here she took the opportunity to respond to the leader of the official opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, who delivered his political keynote in the penultimate session of the day. Mr Corbyn set out the Labour party’s three-point position on the draft withdrawal agreement. Adding, “We won’t let this Conservative Government use Brexit as an excuse for a race to the bottom in protections.”Arguing that “wealth hasn’t trickled down” the time is right for “a new settlement for business.” This includes “a stronger say for the workforce where government will drive a higher rate of investment in infrastructure, education, skills and the technologies of the future.”

‘A shared ambition for tackling inequality’

Ms Fairbairn said that the partnership needed between business and government was not “top-down,” but about “how we ensure people really are engaged and have a stake in success.”“From rigid employment rules to blunt public ownership, the Labour approach sounds more command and control, than partnership. This is not the change that is needed. “Labour and business do share an ambition to tackle inequality, but the way to achieve this is through collaboration based on the belief that enterprise is a force for good.”

Government ‘not hearing’ businesses on immigration 

On this, Ms Fairbairn brought in the CBI’s thinking around immigration and skills, saying the government may be “listening to business when it comes to immigration, but they still aren’t hearing.”One of the CBI’s concerns is the impact of the minimum salary levels, which could lock many skilled migrants out of the UK. “Free movement of people is ending and a new immigration system represents a seismic shift – one that firms across the country need time to adapt to,” she said.“The best way to build public confidence is through a migration system based on contribution, not numbers.”She added that “a false choice between high and low skilled workers would deny businesses from house builders to healthcare providers the vital skills they need to succeed.”Read more from the CBI's annual conference in Relocate's Enterprise section. Join our Think People Global Communities. 
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