As the rival political parties put the finishing touches to their Election manifestos, thoughts are turning to what business leaders need from the next government.
Clarity on our future relationship with the European Union would be welcome but, at the IoD, we are looking beyond Brexit and arguing that all parts of the country must be declared open for business. Regional imbalances are holding back the UK’s overall potential.
In last week’s column, I renewed my call for urgent action to address the North’s poor transport provision, which was brought into sharp focus by the recent flooding that rendered railway lines unusable.
With so many lines and houses built on flood plains, we need to carefully consider the location of future developments and ensure that homes are elevated and transport links are protected.
Longer term, we need a revamp of our road, rail and digital provision, positioning transport and infrastructure as a key competitive advantage, not just an enabler.
Business reliefs and tax incentives for areas most in need of investment would be another smart move. We would like to see long-term regional funding pots, regional Cabinet meetings and taskforces that monitor vulnerable areas, as part of a wider decentralisation plan.
We are also urging the new government to fix the UK’s dire record on productivity, which cannot be allowed to continue. We are calling for a new ‘Productivity Allowance’ tax incentive for SMEs, and boosted reliefs for start-up and scale-up investment.
Political certainty will undoubtedly help, although it is far from guaranteed, as we look to drive bottled-up investment plans and wage growth.
We need to tailor the tax and regulatory system to enable SMEs to thrive. Margins are tight for many companies and excessive red tape only adds to their burden. The IoD recommends the introduction of business rates holidays for firms that are investing in their organisations, a simplification of the tax system and a pause to the introduction of new regulation such as IR35 which affects the hiring of contractors.
I am a passionate advocate of lifelong learning. Skills gaps are holding back firms across the UK. We believe that learning should be incentivised through tax breaks while the scope of the Apprenticeship Levy is widened to reflect the needs of businesses. We also need to do more to leverage our world-class universities to drive R&D growth.
There’s no shortage of steps that the new government should take to put our economy on the front foot and reinvigorate the regions. We will continue to canvass our members and feedback their views into our influential, national policy voice.
You can feed back directly to our new Director General Jon Geldart at our festive drinks evening at The Grand Hotel, York, on 6 December. Jon will also be at our North Yorkshire dinner on 23 January at Rudding Park, Harrogate (early bird tickets available until 30 November).
• The IoD has appointed a new ambassador for transport and infrastructure in Yorkshire and the North East. Dr Alan James is a former vice-president of Virgin Hyperloop One and leads Expert Alliance, a specialist strategic infrastructure practice. Alan will be meeting members and guests at a business breakfast in Harrogate on 16 January.
Natalie Sykes, regional director, IoD