Targeted action to improve physical and digital infrastructure is vital if London is to build back better from the economic ravages of coronavirus, says a new report from the CBI.
The CBI’s Reviving Regions paper, sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group, highlights long-standing regional inequalities across England which inhibit growth, opportunity and productivity.
It says the disparities in economic performance are large, both across England and within regions, and warns they are at risk of widening further if Government levelling-up ambitions falter in the wake of Covid-19.
The paper calls for a long-term strategic vision to guide the country through a vital post-Covid recovery and towards long-term prosperity.
The challenges facing London may be different to those felt in other parts of the country – yet decisive action is still needed to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and ensure opportunity and prosperity are felt in all corners of the city.
Investing in transport infrastructure is a key priority; agreeing a long-term funding settlement with Transport for London, finishing the Crossrail 1 project and building the Lower Thames Crossing can prove transformational.
The pandemic has exposed social challenges, too. The rise in home-working has highlighted the need to improve housing and digital connectivity, making a rapid and comprehensive 5G rollout essential.
Underpinning all of this is a call to empower the London’s city leaders to create a culture where businesses can operate, invest and grow with confidence.
The report’s recommendations include:
- Building vibrant local labour markets: including increasing local capacity to deliver back-to-work programmes alongside a long-term focus on the devolution of adult skills to meet our growing skills and retraining gap.
- Transforming local infrastructure to facilitate new ways of working: including a focus on the future of towns and cities, improving digital connectivity, and a wholesale reform of regional funding to ensure a strategic approach to future investment.
- Inspiring world-class, innovative businesses to invest in the regions: including short term interventions to help businesses grow, locally designed and delivered business support with a focus on access to exporting opportunities, and interventions to close the gap in regional R&D funding.
Eddie Curzon, CBI London Director, said: “London is rightly lauded as a global economic powerhouse, but the pandemic has bitten deeply and there is no guarantee the city will remain internationally competitive if we become complacent.
“The city faces significant challenges around both its physical and digital infrastructure, as well as social and ethnic inequalities in its workforce. Success is spread unevenly, and a renewed commitment to areas of deprivation is essential.
“Covid has changed the way Londoners live and work, and action to reflect this new reality is vital if the city is to enjoy a fair and sustainable recovery while retaining its global influence.”
The CBI stated that the actions outlined in Reviving Regions can mitigate the regional impact of the pandemic and ensure no towns or cities are left behind as the nation looks to rebuild.
However, it stresses that a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot succeed in combating issues which are unevenly spread, and advocates actions being locally and regionally led to ensure they are appropriately targeted.
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “The twin threats of Covid-19 and a potential no-deal Brexit have created a devastating and unprecedented economic challenge. Building back quickly and effectively is essential, but a recovery driven only by limited pockets of productivity is far from a real recovery, and hardly the basis for a brighter future.
“Businesses in every corner of England stand ready and willing to play their part in the economic rebound, but too-often see their efforts hampered by inadequate infrastructure and limited access to skilled workers.
“The Government must therefore prioritise long-term investment in the critical structures, training, and innovation needed to support jobs and quality of life around the UK. This long-overdue levelling-up can lay the foundation for a better, greener and fairer economy for all.”
Ed Thurman, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for London, added: “The regions and nations of the UK have a huge role to play in the country’s recovery from the effects of the pandemic.
“Improving the digital capabilities of people and businesses across the city – combined with the connectivity to be able to make full use of them – will be crucial to helping London look to the future with confidence.
“Lloyds Banking Group is committed to helping every part of the UK build back from the effects of the pandemic and many of the themes highlighted in this CBI report echo what we have heard through The Big Conversation, our own programme which brings together political leaders, businesses and policy experts to explore the best road to recovery across the UK.”