Below please find key take-outs from our February 4th panel with the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); and chaired by Principal of Teneo’s Situations and Politics practice and former Downing Street Director of Politics and Communications, Craig Oliver.
- The Government is optimistic about the economic recovery in H2 2021, with pent up demand expected to help rejuvenate parts of the economy most impacted by the pandemic – including retail, events and hospitality. As the country recovers, the Government will be looking to encourage innovation and investment in key areas including space and battery technology. Whilst the Government won’t be ‘picking winners’ or ‘backing’ specific companies, they will give clear direction on the sectors that they believe will be important areas for growth, especially those that align with the Government’s climate targets and ambition for Net Zero.
- The Government’s slogan of ‘Building Back Better’ after the pandemic has three core components. Firstly, to improve the distribution of investment in areas such as the North East and other old industrial heartlands that need more economic opportunities. Secondly, it will place the climate at its centre, ensuring investment is focused on green and sustainable initiatives that will help contribute to the UK’s goal of achieving Net Zero by 2050. Finally, the Government wants to foster an open and dynamic economy that attracts the very best talent to the UK. There is a belief that following Brexit, the Government will have more control over this. Despite this, the Secretary of State noted how, post-Brexit, he doesn’t intend to undermine workers’ rights or worsen the working conditions of those across the country.
- A review of business rates is long overdue and could see significant changes. The Secretary of State highlighted how dated business rates are in the UK and that clearly, in a post-pandemic world, it will be important to review the current rules. Clearly there will be a balance to be struck given how important this income is for the Treasury, however it is clear that a more nimble and effective method of taxation could spell good news for many businesses on the high street.
- On diversity and inclusion, the Secretary of State highlighted that, currently, the Cabinet is far more diverse than the Boards and Executive teams of all FTSE 100 companies. Whilst the Secretary of State was reluctant to recommend using quotas to encourage greater diversity at all levels within business, he suggested that more work needs to be done to force companies to change and demonstrate a greater commitment to diversity, in both race and gender.
- Finally, when asked about the shape of the UK’s economic and business landscape post-Covid, the Secretary of State highlighted how 2021 is unrecognisable compared to the 80s, 90s and even 2010s. As a result, there is clearly scope to redefine what a modern, capitalist country and economy should look like. The pandemic offers the country an opportunity to think carefully and rigorously about the sort of society we want to live in.