A number of speakers at the Building Societies Annual Conference in May 2017 had referred to building societies having an important social role that went beyond merely providing services to consumers.
Carolyn Fairbairn, the Director-General of business body the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), expanded on this theme to stress the need for businesses to lead the way in defining the UK’s future in the face of current uncertainties.
After the Brexit vote
It is no secret that the CBI was an advocate for the UK remaining in the European Union. Despite the vote going the other way, Carolyn explained why there are reasons to be positive. The economy is growing, employment is high, and some of the CBI’s surveys are the most positive they have been for many years. But to maintain this resilience will require hard work, working with Government, and local communities where the real issues will come through.
In the CBI’s recent conversations with businesses in the UK and Europe, the trade body has found it important to be realistic and optimistic about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Both sides recognise that we need as few barriers to trade as possible, to help deliver strong economies and consistent regulation. We are presently seeing a lot of political manoeuvres but it is vital that the economic arguments ultimately cut through so that politicians on both sides understand what both have to gain.
Three areas where arrangements should be quickly agreed are to guarantee the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK, the arrangements for the trade deal, and a transition or implementation period after the negotiations. These will do much to reduce the uncertainty facing businesses.
Carolyn also described CBI research that revealed the significant differences in productivity across different regions, resulting in vast differences in living standards. If those regions with the poorest productivity performance could close the gap by 2024, £200 billion could be added to the economy. Education and skills, innovation, local infrastructure, and management practices and capability are areas ripe for improvement.
This needs collaboration between people who live and work in those regions, and the Government’s Industrial Strategy needs to be given time to work through. Business needs to be at the forefront of driving these improvements, and ready to work with the new Government after the election in June.
Building a prosperous society
Carolyn recognised the role played by the building society sector as localised businesses across the UK, and contributing to long-term economic success by supporting saving and home ownership. Businesses such as building societies that recognise the need to work with local communities and Government can help to make the outlook more certain, and ultimately, make society more prosperous.