Britain should be confident in its post-EU future

With just four days into Britain’s post-EU era, there will be differing views on what the next 12 months hold. But, according to a recent major survey, large numbers of chief executives around the globe are fairly united in their thinking that the UK has bounced back as a destination for future growth.
The UK remained the fourth most important territory for growth for chief executives, joint with India and Australia, and behind the US, China and Germany.
The survey conducted by audit/accountancy giant PwC found that for chief executives in Europe’s largest economies, Germany, France and Italy, the UK is viewed as positively now as it was in 2015, prior to the referendum in 2016, with a “notable uptick since last year”.
In Germany, the percentage of CEO’s who view Britain as one of their top three growth targets jumped to 13 per cent, from six per cent last year, to match the level in 2015.
Meanwhile outside Europe, the UK has become more attractive to chief executives in the US, Japan and Australia. Chairman of PwC, Kevin Ellis said the UK was viewed as a “beacon of relative stability”.
The chief executives’ insight is more relevant now than ever before as the UK determines its future path, making the latest PwC survey one of the most important in its 23-year history.
What is striking in the latest survey – especially given the current political environment – is that Britain has become more attractive to some of its nearest European CEO’s, including Germany – EU’s powerhouse – and France. These upbeat results are a helpful reminder that the UK is a relatively stable place in a world facing big challenges, and gives a timely sense of perspective.
Britain has other great credentials. These obviously include natural advantages such as an unbeatable location between the US, Asia and the rest of Europe and strengths that have evolved overtime such as the UK’s fair and trusted legal system and business culture.
While the research showed CEO’s worldwide predict slower global economic growth over the next year, the UK is in a strong position for the longer term if it can capitalise on its key characteristics.
Maintaining an open and globalised economy is crucial, as is an effective tax system, Ellis says. For example, it’s quicker and easier to file taxes in Britain than in most parts of the world, but there is clear scope for improvement through further digitisation.
Digitisation can also make the UK’s transport system more reliable and improve productivity. But only if people have the right skills to innovate and reap the benefits.
Chief executives globally say the availability of skills is the number one threat to their business and it’s a top three concern for UK CEOs. Despite this, only about half of British businesses at present are focused on improving the skills of their existing workers.
The country is well placed to take a lead, building on its eminence in education and its strong tech sector. It requires more collaboration between businesses and educators, to map out and nurture the skills needed for a more automated world.
Furthermore, policies and incentives are needed for regions most affected by automation – to help new types of business to grow, workers to transition, and small and medium sized businesses to support them.
Far more than just helping the UK become more attractive for investment, this is a societal obligation so that swathes of people don’t get left behind. But in addressing the challenge, Britain will boost the nation’s reputation as a fair society where people want to work and do business.
One question that arises is on the solving of the big societal problem of the day – climate change. It was an important topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month and remains an ongoing issue around the world. This matter also soared up the agenda for UK’s CEOs who were interviewed in the survey and it polled higher than concerns over populism, terrorism and access to capital.
On emission, having committed to achieving net zero by 2050, Britain has a powerful incentive to help lead the charge and share its know-how. So, while it would be naive to suggest the coming years will not be challenging, if Britain can focus forwards and outwards it can have every reason to be confident in its long-term future and the survey results suggest chief executives across many parts of the globe would agree. (The writer is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at andyjalil@aol.com)