Business experts react to the Prime Minister's speech
By Richard Wright | 7th October 2021
The Prime Minister's party conference speech was larded with jokes but provided thin gruel for those looking for specific policy measures.
Business leaders nationally and locally have been responding to the 45-minute laughter-fest in which he set out his vision for 'levelling up' to a 'high skill, high pay' economy.
Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "There is much in the Prime Minister's ambition for the future of the United Kingdom which should be rightly applauded, but what businesses urgently need are answers to the problems they are facing in the here and now."
Tony Danker, CBI Director General, said the PM's words needed to be 'backed up by action' on skills, investment and productivity.
He said: "Ambition on wages without action on investment and productivity is ultimately just a pathway for higher prices."
Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, was less kind.
He said the speech was 'bombastic but vacuous and economically illiterate'.
He said: "This was an agenda for levelling down to a centrally-planned, high-tax, low-productivity economy."
In Gloucestershire, Scott Lawrence, a partner with business advisors and accountants Hazlewoods, said: "Boris appears to be going for the popular vote through increased wages for the lower paid, funded by business and ultimately consumers, not Government support packages, as part of his levelling up agenda.
"We can expect high inflation (compared to recent years) and more disruption as the labour market adjusts. There should be lots of opportunities for local business to innovate and grow with the economy."
Sam Holliday, FSB development director, Gloucestershire, said: "From a political point of view, I am sure this was regarded as a good speech by the PM's team - and it certainly had a swagger and positivity that will resonate with many in the country, I am sure.
"However, from a purely business point of view there were a few alarm bells which will have been ringing among Gloucestershire's SMEs.
"There was very little - if any - attention paid to the key issues facing small businesses at the moment: rising tax bills, supply chain issues, increasing fuel and energy costs and the ongoing staffing and skills crisis that is affecting so many.
"For the country to achieve the high-wage, high-skilled economy the PM talks of it will require the small businesses who are the driving force of our economy to have the funds and trained staff to do so. Increasing business-related taxes at a time of rising prices in materials and utilities can only halt that ambition and the Government must acknowledge this.
"SMEs do want to be part of the recovery that the PM and the country as a whole seeks - but they can't do it alone. We can only look forward to the Budget and hope the Chancellor sees this and gives small businesses some of the incentives and support they need to achieve the goals of UK plc."
Ian Mean, Business West Gloucestershire director, said: "Boris Johnson's closing speech to the Tory conference had little to please business.
"He rammed home the message that we need a high skills, high wage economy. And business had to invest to play their part in what he said was a broken model.
"That vision is undoubtedly supported by much of business but what I think what they now need is clear, open dialogue with government support to achieve that goal.
"The picture that Boris painted was far from the reality that most business in Gloucestershire faces today of recruitment and serious supply shortages.
"This was a speech that could well have been one of his Daily Telegraph columns with lots of Boris humour and rhetoric.
"We had Build Back Burger and Build Back Beaver as part of his overall Levelling Up mantra. But did we get any firmer detail on those Levelling Up policies and plans?
"No. What we did get was a glowing resume of the magnificent work of the NHS during Covid and our vaccine success. Quite right.
"We got patriotism too with mention of the England football team and our tennis champion, Emma Raducanu.
"Business will now be waiting in trepidation for the Chancellor's spending review later this month.
"They will hope that more government support will be forthcoming but will not hold their breath.
"This was Boris at his campaigning best, but it is certainly not going to win him many friends in business in their real world."
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