‘We must not fail our young people’ – CBI Director-General gives final keynote speech

In her final keynote address as CBI Director-General, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn will say that the promise of the next generation can only be protected if government, business and wider society work together to create an economic revival plan.

The experience of the pandemic shows beyond doubt that national unity is the only way to rebuild the UK economy and tackle the totemic issues of our day.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn will say: “Young people are amongst the hardest hit by the devastating economic impact of Covid-19. They face most risk of losing their job, find it hardest to move into new jobs, and are the most affected by long periods of unemployment. They are also facing serious interruptions in their education and training. Seven in ten young people feel their life is on hold, while anxiety and depression are on the rise. Urgent action is needed to protect their futures and prevent a lost COVID generation.”

Carolyn will urge business and government to act at speed and with bold ambition to create an economic revival plan – not wait for the pandemic to pass.

On the urgency of the economic challenge ahead, Dame Carolyn will say: “Just as Churchill commissioned the Beveridge review at the height of the Second World War in 1942, creating the welfare state and supporting several decades of sustained growth, it is now down to the leaders of today to create a revival plan from this historic crisis.

“The plan should prioritise creating jobs, training and opportunity, particularly – though not only – for young people, through practical partnership. Government alone will be too slow and lack scale; business alone will be too fragmented.”

She will recommend the creation of a new National Commission for Economic Recovery, bringing together business, government, unions, education and other parts of civil society. The Commission should have clear targets and a bold remit to create new approaches for a fair and sustainable revival of the UK economy over the next 12 months.

On the priorities for a new National Commission for Economic Recovery, she will say: “The top priority is job creation. The government’s commitment to ‘Build, Build, Build’ provides a good starting point. Many firms are ready to invest, hire and grow, from green retrofitting of homes to accelerating the digital economy. But commitment must be turned into action.

“Economic revival should aim to build a better UK economy not just recreate the status quo. It should target those most in need and support diversity, the UK’s net zero ambition, and levelling up communities. This is what Building Back Better needs to mean in practice.”

Carolyn will say that UK business is ready to help lead this revival; government does not need to go it alone. UK firms will bring investment, ideas, energy and scale. The Commission can create the focus and momentum for practical and fast action.