CBI boss says East Anglian business needs a strong voice on devolution
The president of the national CBI has called on East Anglian business to take the lead in the region’s devolution deal, warning that a failure to do so would condemn the proposals to failure.
Paul Drechsler said the business community must offer a strong voice to prevent the process becoming dragged down by “the political agenda”, as negotiations continue for a unified Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire authority with devolved powers and an elected mayor.
“The idea of devolution is good but the vital ingredient is public-private collaboration,” said Mr Drechsler during a visit to address the East of England CBI in Newmarket.
“There’s no such thing as successful devolution which is just the government -– the magic comes from collaboration between the two.
“Getting business to engage in making the economy better and the region to grow is something they will put their hand up for straight away.”
But Mr Drechsler said not enough detail had been released to allow businesses to make an informed decision, adding: “From the people I have spoken to, I think that business is up for it – but they don’t know what ‘it’ is yet.”
After addressing business leaders at a regional CBI lunch, where the key topics under discussion included infrastructure, housing, education, and the EU referendum, Mr Drechsler reiterated the CBI’s view that Britain would be stronger by voting to remain.
A CBI-commissioned report warned earlier this month that a vote to leave could cost the UK economy £100bn and up to 950,000 jobs by 2020.
“I believe every business leader has a duty to to ensure their employees, customers and suppliers understand what the impact of Brexit would be,” he said.
“I don’t believe doing that is telling them how to vote, and I don’t believe that giving people the facts is scaremongering.”
He also called for improved infrastructure and housing to boost the region’s growth, claiming delays to projects such as the A47 and the A14 were holding East Anglia back.
“We don’t need more announcements, we need action,” he said.
“You can only attract people to great communities with great housing. We are currently building about 140-150,000 houses a year – we think we need more than 250,000 a year.”
He added it “would need to be a very, very long parliament” if the government is to hit its stated target of building a million new homes before the next election.
Mr Drechsler also said growth in the East of England can be boosted by looking abroad – but only with the right support.
The CBI president highlighted Felixstowe port, which handles 42pc of the country’s container trade and offers links to 400 ports around the world, as an example of the region’s existing strength.
The CBI is pushing for a National Exports Commission to be formed, to help medium-sized businesses establish new markets.
“This body – similar to the Low Pay Commission – would bring together businesses, from multinationals to growing MSBs and first time exporters, economists, and a cross-party bench of politicians to give independent advice to the government on long-term export targets and the policies needed to deliver them,” said Mr Drechsler.