Some of the biggest names in UK business have teamed up to create a pressure group to ensure the economy emerges from coronavirus “stronger and fairer”, its members announced today.
The group will be called the Covid Recovery Commission, and will involve the chairs of FTSE 100 powerhouses Tesco and Shell and the chief executives of Vodafone, Heathrow Airport and British Land.
Writing in City A.M. today, the members of the Commission said they will “produce practical ideas to help ensure that all of the UK is best placed to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient”.
The Commission will produce analysis and policy plans to look at how to improve training, productivity, and innovation. It also plans to assess how the pandemic has impacted the digital economy and decarbonisation.
Nick Faith, director of WPI Strategy, the consultancy that brought the Commission together, said the group will be a “critical friend” of the government.
It comes days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to steer the country out of the coronavirus recession by investing in infrastructure projects across the country.
As well as having one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world, the UK is also set to be one of the worst-performing major economies this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Businesses to act as ‘critical friend’
Faith said there is “clearly a role for an active state” during the economic recovery. But he said the government should set the “framework” for the recovery and that private companies should be able to critique its plans.
The Commission will be chaired by John Allan, who chairs Tesco and housebuilder Barratt. Allan said: “It is time to show that political, business and civic leaders can work together to rebuild a UK where everyone, regardless of background or geography, can have a fairer, more prosperous life.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he welcomed the creation of the Commission. “Businesses, large and small, have a critical role to play in creating the jobs and opportunities that will help us recover from this pandemic,” he said.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds also welcomed the Commission. Yet she said the group only brought “some parts of business together” and that “a much more inclusive and wide-ranging approach is needed”.
She said the government “must work with businesses large and small, trade unions, local authorities and education providers”. She added: “It must also radically improve industrial coordination, which has been shown to be so severely wanting in the UK during this crisis.”
The Commission said it will include the views of other groups by consulting widely. This will include relationships with business groups, think tanks and employee representatives.
Can the Commission boost investment?
The new group may struggle to achieve some of its goals, however, especially around business investment. The Bank of England said in May that business investment could drop by 26 per cent this year and only grow by 19 per cent in 2021.
Heathrow Airport, whose CEO John Holland-Kaye is a Commission member, currently plans to lay off thousands of workers in the UK during the pandemic. Shell, another Commission member, said last month that it will cut jobs as it restructures in the face of lower oil prices.
Faith said the Commission hoped investment could pick up again over a longer time scale, however.
It will produce economic analysis authored by Matthew Oakley, a former Treasury adviser. There will be a separate advisory panel of public policy experts and academics across public services, technology and clean energy.
Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK and a Commission member, said: “The government has the chance to create the conditions for businesses – digital and non-digital – to thrive once more.”
Holland-Kaye said: “As we move tentatively from the rescue phase of the pandemic into the recovery phase, we need to create a true partnership between business and government to deliver real lasting and sustainable growth.”
Cabinet office secretary Michael Gove said: “Jobs, skills and infrastructure investment will be at the heart of our economic recovery.” He added: “Businesses in every community across the UK will have a vital role to play as we level up and build back better.”
The other Commissioners are Manoj Badale, co-founder of Blenheim Chalcot; Ruth Cairnie, chair of Babcock; Ian Funnell, CEO of Hitachi ABB Power Grids; Chris Grigg, CEO of British Land; Tom Keith-Roach, UK president of Astrazeneca; Sinead Lynch, chair of Shell UK.