General Election Countdown: what business can do

Practical actions your business can take to drive sustainable growth in the uncertainty of an election year

21 Nov 2023, 9 min read

There’s no doubt that the voice of business was heard loud and clear at the CBI’s General Election Countdown: Raising the Voice of Business conference yesterday (20 November). Held just two days before the Autumn Statement, business leaders heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, and the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Jonathan Reynolds – both keen to woo the business vote. They were joined by business leaders, journalists and industry experts.

Panels on future leaders, net zero, the UK’s current economic environment, and tackling workforce and skills challenges, provided valuable insight into businesses’ pinch points – and practical steps to take to collectively tackle the productivity problem and reignite UK growth and opportunity.

CBI Chief Executive Rain Newton-Smith said: “Elections are a moment for contrast and comparison – but economies thrive on consensus.” It was a rallying call in the run-up to a UK General Election, encouraging business and government to focus on areas of mutual interest with the aim to achieve stability and long-term sustainable growth.

Key themes that emerged from our business leader speakers:

  • There’s a lot of untapped investment potential in the UK
  • We need to compete internationally to meet net zero goals 
  • We still need to tackle the twin challenges of upskilling and productivity 
  • Technology and innovation in the UK are a clear route to growth
  • But government can help by providing consistency, stability and a long-term approach

The political speakers had proactive and promising messages for the business leaders in the room. And there’s an opportunity for UK businesses to forge ahead when it comes to investment and R&D. Focusing on employment, education and green growth will set organisations up for success. 

These are some of the positive actions your business can take today to tackle the challenges stymieing growth in the UK:

1. Bring the right skills into your business

Everyone knows there’s a cross-sector need for upskilling, not least because of the rapid development of technology. Several business leaders spoke about the difficulty of bringing important skills, such as green and digital, into their organisations. There’s an ask from government here, but businesses can act right away by investing in skills, creating mutually beneficial partnerships with other businesses, and working across sectors. 

As Airbus’ Oriel Petry said, big businesses will find it easier to think about their long-term skills needs. It’s on them to help smaller businesses in their supply chain to do the same.

And there is more to be done to keep skilled people in the workforce. Businesses should continue to develop equality, diversity and inclusion practices, and incorporate researched and thought out flexible-working solutions for parents. These actions will prevent skilled and experienced employees from exiting the labour market unnecessarily. 

2. Fully embrace the transition to net zero

Sustainability is a huge opportunity. The UK may not be able to compete with the European Green Deal and the United States’ Federal Sustainability Plan in terms of scale, but it is an agile nation, well-placed to innovate and leverage private investment. Our speakers were unanimous, the energy market will change – it’s only a matter of how quickly it will do so.

Firms need a long-term approach from government to encourage both businesses and consumers to invest in an integrated, systemic way. But the more transparent firms can be and the more comparability that comes from reporting climate data, the easier it will be to find the solutions to issues as they arise – whether it’s in financing, or in the supply chain, said HSBC’s Tim Lord.

3. Adopt tech and invest in training to unlock productivity in your workforce

Another area where the UK must evolve to compete on the global stage is productivity, which remains comparatively low. Our speakers provided multiple explanations for why this is – but how can we combat this ongoing problem? Again, the adoption of technology and unlocking investment in this area – as well as in R&D – will be key.

In a panel focused on workforce challenges, business leaders spoke about the importance of management training. Too many managers do not receive adequate training, and speakers advocated for employers to seek to better understand the capacity of junior and middle managers.

Health was another recurring topic – since many workers are on long-term sick leave. Businesses can act right away to prioritise good mental health, in particular, embedding ways of working which improve the living standards of their employees, which will have a knock-on positive effect on productivity.

4. Have all the conversations you can to tackle the big challenges of the day

A session in partnership with Anthropy and featuring four young leaders urged businesses to create more dialogue within their organisations to help find the answers to many of today’s issues. Many young people want the agency to make a difference, yet it’s not always easy for them to share their ideas. Don’t leave it to them to make all the effort. They’re the leaders of the future, but you don’t have to wait for them to become the leaders. Provoke the conversations for change.

5. Sustainable growth will come from a springboard of cooperation

At the conference, Reynolds said: “the major issues we face can only be fixed by working with business.” And Hunt urged businesses to demonstrate: “innovation, ingenuity, creativity and enterprise.”  It’s heartening to see both major parties recognise the potential for positive change that can only come from close communication and cooperation. A cross-sector approach will be needed – whether in green growth or tech adoption.

Read the CBI’s 2023 Autumn Statement submission to see where we are asking for the government to support businesses to fire-up investment, with the goal of achieving sustainable growth for the entire UK economy.  

Following the Autumn Statement on 22 November, we’ll share the measures the Chancellor has put in place to help unlock business investment, and where our asks on behalf of our members have been met. 

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