As political parties position themselves ahead of upcoming election, CBI director general, John Cridland, has used his New Year message to spell out how to create a stronger economy, deliver a better future for our young people and secure Britain’s place in the world.
He issued a clarion call to radically reform the education system by scrapping GCSEs, and urged political leaders to place facts first amid the increasingly fevered debate on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
Cridland commented: “A year of change and challenge beckons for us all as we hurtle towards the general election.
“It has been a successful year for the UK economy, and we have emerged stronger and more able to tackle the challenges ahead.
“Our economy is among those enjoying the fastest growth among the G7 nations, with 1.2m jobs created this year and employment set to grow in every region of the UK in 2015.”
Yet he warned: “The political and economic risks at home and abroad represent a clear and present danger. As the election countdown accelerates, I urge politicians of all hues not to take their eyes off the economic ball.
“We must sustain the best launch pad for the UK economy and our young people. Cementing Britain’s reputation in the world as one of the best places to do business has to be a top priority for 2015.
On creating a better future for our young people, Cridland added: “Britain’s young people are streetwise and impressive, but our education system doesn’t always serve them well.
“While the average is gently improving, we see too many left behind, and others who could be high achievers not fulfilling their potential.
“We need to get the basics right first time in primary school and then provide a personal menu of tailored learning plans for all 14-18 year olds offering high quality academic and vocational A-levels, and encouraging young people to mix and match, depending on what’s right for them.
“This will involve the eventual abolition of GCSEs at 16, as peak level testing would then take place when students are 18.
“By boosting skills we will see productivity rise – along with earnings. And business will play its part by improving competitiveness, and creating opportunities for young people through apprenticeships, and for older workers through workplace retraining.”
On creating the best conditions for future economic growth, Cridland focused on the importance of deficit reduction to delivering sustainable growth, describing it as “a must for the next government.”
“The main political parties are in agreement on the need for action but seem reluctant to be upfront on the major structural changes needed to prevent public services suffering decline through a thousand cuts,” he said.
“All political parties need to give as much attention to how they will run government as to what government should do.”
On the future of Britain’s place in the world, the director general said that the majority of CBI members want the UK to remain within a reformed EU.
“The fundamental choice here is whether Britain wants to be a global citizen or retreat behind national borders.
“Political isolationism would leave us poorer. But the EU has to reform and needs to be more competitive, outward looking and open.
“It must sign more trade deals, like the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, which could be worth at least €120bn every year and would create a combined market of more than 800m people, bringing more choices for consumers at cheaper prices.
“And we also need less EU – no more lifestyle regulation on matters like employment, such as the working time directive, which should be left to member states, and no more damaging regulations on UK financial services that are vital to fuelling growth across Europe.”
He said that there is “much more to do but the signs are positive,” highlighting that UK growth is expected to hit 2.5% in 2015 and concluded: “Restoring wage growth will help more people feel that they are benefitting from the recovery, but the upsurge in productivity required will only follow on from increasing skills across the piece.”