UK should respond to economic crisis with 1945-style reboot, says CBI chief

Covid, climate change and Brexit demand consensus on ‘a fairer, greener, economy’ says Tony Danker

Britain needs an economic strategy for the next decade to match the ambition of the 1945 postwar recovery as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, the new head of the CBI said.

In his first keynote speech as director general of the business group, Tony Danker said the “triple shocks” of Brexit, coronavirus and climate change highlighted the need for business and government to work together on a long-term plan.

Invoking the work of the 1945 Labour government to reboot Britain’s economy from the devastation of the second world war, and contrasting it with the response to the 2008 financial crisis, he said the government, businesses and trade unions needed to work together on a fightback plan.

“I believe we must, and we will, come together to forge a better decade. More 1945 than 2008,” he said.

Danker, head of the country’s most powerful business lobby group, replaced Dame Carolyn Fairbairn in the role late last year. Previously he was chief executive of Be the Business, a government and industry-funded organisation launched by George Osborne with the aim of boosting British companies’ productivity. Formerly he had been chief strategy officer at Guardian News and Media, the publisher of the Guardian and Observer.

Saying the UK had failed to “build back better” from the 2008 banking crisis, Danker warned that productivity and economic growth had flatlined while the UK had become a more divided nation. This time around he said “vision, a plan and a consensus as a nation to pursue it” was needed to rebuild a fairer, greener, economy for the 2020s.

Clement Attlee, in London in 1945
Clement Attlee, in London in 1945, before he became prime minister and led a postwar government that created the modern welfare state. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Highlighting the creation of the welfare state and the birth of the NHS after the war as a moment when “real shifts for the better” had taken place, he added: “Let’s be clear. The scale of the shocks we’re facing today – Brexit, Covid, and the climate imperative – demand a similarly dramatic moment of unity and foresight. So, what will we take from this crisis? Where, in our darkest times, have we made real shifts for the better? Most notably, of course, in the aftermath of the second world war, when postwar reconstruction gave birth to the NHS and creation of the welfare state.”

Danker’s first speech in charge of the CBI came as Boris Johnson’s government drew up plans for easing coronavirus restrictions this spring and rebooting the economy from the deepest recession in more than 300 years.

Business leaders and unions have called for the furlough scheme to be extended until at least the summer in response to the damage inflicted by the Covid shock to build up sustainable recovery.

Warning against a full embrace of free-market ideology, he said a middle ground between big government and neoliberalism could be forged.

“For decades we’ve oscillated between the view that either government should run the economy, or that government should just stay out of it,” he said.

Urging the government to invest in a green economic recovery, he said a national economic vision for overcoming political cycles could be created. “We have been short term, both sides, and failed to unite around a shared plan to realise our potential. History will judge how we used this moment to map the path to get to 2030.”


Richard Partington Economics correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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