In conversation with Kitty Ussher, IoD Chief Economist

This article was written for ‘Northern Insight’ magazine and published as part of their March edition.

Tell us a little about your role with the IoD

I’m the chief economist at the IoD, so my role is to provide insight to the 20,000 business leaders that make up our membership on the outlook for the UK macroeconomy, which they can use to help inform their business planning.

I also act as the organisation’s external media spokesperson on matters to do with the economy and wider business policy. And behind the scenes there’s an important job to make sure that government understands how our members are feeling about their business environment, and how that is affected by the decisions of national policymakers. For example, I have a regular channel of dialogue with the Treasury who are very interested in the data we collect from our membership surveys.

What are the prospects for the UK economy right now?

At a high level, fairly positive at least compared to what we’ve just been through. There is still a sense of ‘catching up’ after the pandemic among both households and businesses and, combined with low unemployment and strong order books, this will keep demand in the economy.

Set against this is the more recent uncertainty from inflation, rising interest rates, difficulties in our relationship with the EU and supply shortages which may make some people hesitate to press go on spending. Taken together, at this point, I expect perhaps 3% growth in 2022.

What impact will the latest Levelling Up announcement have, especially for the North East?

There is a lot of detail – and aspirational language – in the new Levelling Up announcements, but its real potential is to provide a new geographic overlay to the usual development and implementation of policy combined with an explicit aim of reducing disparities between different parts of the country.

To the extent that the North East is an underperformer, that’s therefore an opportunity. As the IoD’s resident nerd I’m also particularly interested in a commitment buried deep within the White Paper to produce more information on government investment and impact by geographic area. Having visibility of this over time should start to change decision making if the government is serious about making a difference.

What do IoD members currently see as the key priorities at the moment?

Frictions in EU and international trade, skills shortages, the forthcoming national insurance rise and energy bills are all high up the list of priorities at the moment. They also want macroeconomic stability, a greater sense of vision and leadership from government as well as clearer guidance on what, in practical terms, smaller businesses need to do to help us meet our climate goals.

How is the IoD responding and working with government to influence policy?

We survey our members regularly so we can spot trends and concerns and then relay these directly in our weekly face-to-face meetings with government ministers and senior civil servants. We run public-facing campaigns in the media on issues that matter, such as launching a petition against the forthcoming rise in national insurance that has now got 160,000 signatures! We also prioritise our internal policy development in the areas of greatest concern and then advocate potential solutions to government on their behalf.

To find out more about IoD membership in the North East, please visit or contact the local branch chair Sarah Waddington at [email protected]

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