The industry Forum programme is driven month by month by the issues and concerns of members and policy-makers who wish to take soundings of business views. Some of the fundamental issues that drive the agenda are given below:
After the 2008 banking crisis the Labour administration took emergency actions aimed at shoring up the banking system and providing short-term economic stimuli. The Coalition that took power in 2010 gave priority to cutting public spending and followed an austerity agenda along the same lines as the US and the rest of Europe. This has, since 2014, begun to bear fruit, evidenced by a return of growth in the UK, but key objectives of rebalancing the economy away from a dependence on the financial sector, providing the means to invest in infrastructure and reducing the trade deficit by increased exports, still remain elusive. Thus the top priority for many UK businesses is the achievement of sustainable, high value-added growth that will help the real economy. Businesses in the UK believe this is eminently achievable and are keen to work with policy-makers to make it happen.
Although the UK now has relatively high levels of employment and has returned to growth, levels of productivity are substantially lower than for our main developed competitors and this affects UK living standards and competitiveness. The issue of low productivity is a serious one and economists are not united on its causes or possible cures, but it is vital to the long-term economic success of the UK that it is successfully addressed.
The Scottish referendum process and the closeness of the outcome shocked many businesses operating in the UK. It has also increased anxiety about the forthcoming referendum on EU membership among a business community who, in general, have worked hard take advantage of what the EU offers by building relationships, partnerships, and businesses in other member states. Many foresee that a prolonged period of uncertainty would be the outcome of a vote to leave.
High value-added growth and the associated high quality jobs can only be produced by a highly skilled and trained population. For many years now there has been a focus on extending academic, university level education but progress on the skills training and apprenticeships that are also needed, has been less successful. The UK has wonderful schools and universities, a great record in scientific research and some high-performing technology companies. Bringing this all together to train and retain a work-force with world leading skills could provide the engine needed to rebalance and re-energise the British economy.
Our entire economy is built on energy but consumption of our traditional carbon based fuels needs to be reduced to reduce climate change. Furthermore, the ability of markets to deliver adequate traditional and renewable energy supplies at prices that are affordable by retail customers and businesses, is uncertain. This a complex planning and technology challenge which, if tackled well, could bring economic benefits and long-term energy security.
The 2008 banking crisis and associated problems have undermined public trust in business and legislators in a way that makes it harder to operate businesses and to gain support for political decisions. This loss of trust has been measured by many pollsters up to 2015 and shows no sign yet of reversing. Whether new legislation, new institutions or behavioural changes are needed, this is a problem that needs to be addressed to improve the operation of the economy.