What business leaders want from the next government

As the UK heads to the polls on 4 July, what policies would business leaders like to see an incoming government commit to?

Election illustration - what business leaders want from next government

With a month to go until the general election, campaigning is well under way as the UK’s political parties seek to prove they are the right people to lead the country. Business leaders will be paying close attention to the promises of both main parties before deciding where to pledge their support. 

After weathering the headwinds of the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation and global supply chain disruption in recent years, what business leaders desire most is a period of stability. Speaking to Sky News, Aviva CEO Amanda Blanc says: “We want consistency and stability. Whoever wins the election, we want it to be decisive and for there to be certainty for us to be able to invest in things like UK infrastructure.”

For Romi Savova, CEO of the fintech PensionBee, any new government that wants to prove it is truly pro-business must commit to “creating an environment that supports innovation and growth”. “This includes backing digital advancements and ensuring a stable regulatory landscape that allows businesses to thrive and continue serving their customers effectively,” she adds.

Any new government must also develop a long-term vision for the labour market, according to Doug Rode, managing director for UK and Ireland at recruitment company PageGroup. “There are parts of the labour market that could work more effectively,” he says. 

In his opinion, any incoming government must address issues around the apprenticeship levy, improve training opportunities and review how immigration can help address skills gaps. “There are levels of inertia around the current skills agenda that would be worthwhile addressing,” Rode adds.

Business groups call for long-term vision

Both Labour and the Conservatives are yet to publish their manifestos. However, business groups have been more forthcoming in sharing the commitments they want to see any new government make.

In its Business Manifesto, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called for a new trade strategy, changes to the planning system and greater investment in net zero. CBI CEO Rain Newton-Smith says: “We want to see a new government deliver a bold pitch to investors across the globe, restore the UK’s competitiveness and double down on our climate commitments and opportunities.” 

Last week, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) released its five-point action plan, which it would like to see an incoming government implement. It includes a green industrial strategy, better skills planning, business rates reform, closer ties with the EU and a government-appointed AI champion.

Baroness Martha Lane Fox, president of the BCC, says: “Time and again businesses tell me they want to see a long-term vision for the economy. Our manifesto showcases practical ideas on how politicians can help companies successfully navigate the challenges and opportunities our economy faces.”

Where do the main parties stand?

Labour, which is traditionally viewed as the party for workers, has spent the last few months attempting to court business chiefs. Last week, in a speech made in front of an audience at Rolls Royce’s Derby factory, the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves claimed that Labour was now the “natural party of British business” as she promised a reform of the skills system, bring closer ties with the EU and committed to capping corporation tax at its current rate.

The party’s efforts have won the support of more than 120 British business leaders, who signed a letter of support for Labour. The signatories included JD Sports chair Andrew Higginson, Atom Bank CEO Mark Mullen, the UK president of WPP Karen Blackett and the restaurateur Tom Kerridge

However, critics have described the list as “poor”, with Higginson being the only current chair or CEO of a FTSE 100 firm to commit their name to the list. Some 34 of the country’s biggest companies have opted to remain politically neutral.  

Labour has also pledged to overhaul the current apprenticeship levy system, which would grant businesses more flexibility over how they spend the fund. 

While the Conservative party often regards itself as the more natural partner to enterprise, it has so far shared scant detail of its economic policies, instead pointing to the party’s record in handling the economy during the pandemic and the recent reduction in inflation. 

However, the Conservatives have been critical of Labour’s proposed New Deal for Working People, which includes greater protections of workers‘ rights, restrictions on the use of zero-hour contracts and increases to sick pay. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has warned the proposals could create a “French-style, inflexible labour market”.

Whichever party emerges successful, it’s unlikely that businesses’ entire policy wish-list will be fulfilled. At the least, they will hope for greater consistency of policy and stability after the political turmoil of recent years.