Second national lockdown a ‘real body blow’ for business, CBI chief says

A second national lockdown is a “real body blow” for business, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn warned the Prime Minister’s relationship with business “could be a lot better”.

Asked if Boris Johnson was a business-friendly Prime Minister, she told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I think he is in his bones, but I think what we now need to see is that in action.”

The CBI’s annual conference, she said, was an opportunity for Mr Johnson “to make it absolutely clear that he backs business”.

She added: “It has been a disappointment to me that there hasn’t been a closer relationship there….I think it could be a lot better, I really do.”

Dame Carolyn cautioned that economic support for business during the pandemic “has felt too often as though it’s tail-end Charlie” adding that “if that isn’t there then jobs will be lost now”.

Mass rapid testing for business, she added, “could be a total game-changer” as England prepared to enter a four-week lockdown from Thursday.

She said: “It’s an incredibly difficult time for business – this is a real body blow.

“So many firms have worked very hard to become Covid-safe, they have been resilient through the first phase, so this is undoubtedly very tough.”

She added: “We need to do everything we can to minimise the damage of this second lockdown… We need to keep as much of the economy open as we possibly can and actually because more businesses are Covid-safe now manufacturing, construction should be able to stay open.

“We do need to protect jobs and the enablers of the economy through this, the fact we’ve got the job retention scheme, furlough continuing is really, really fundamental…

“We need to use the next four weeks to really prepare for what might come next and mass rapid testing for business could be a total game-changer, enabling more of our economy to be open and work safely and productively.”

She warned: “Economic support has felt too often as though it’s ‘tail-end Charlie’, it’s business having to come and say ‘now we need this, now we need that’, instead of being part of the solution right from the beginning and we would really welcome clarification from the Government right now that, as long as these restrictions are in place, the support will be in place because businesses need to plan.

“If that isn’t there then jobs will be lost now.”

On Brexit, she said: “Brexit has been done, we now need the deal, that is really important.

“It is over and actually all that business now wants to do is make a success of that, to move us forward and we have to do that partnership.”

UK and European Union flags (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
UK and European Union flags (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Dame Carolyn will use her final speech to the CBI conference as director general to urge Government, business and others in society to unite and produce a strategy akin to that seen during the Second World War in order to spearhead the country’s revival.

An economic recovery that prioritises jobs for young people should be at the centre of a post-coronavirus plan, she will suggest.

She will warn in a speech on Monday on the opening day of the conference that young people have been particularly impacted by the recession, with the havoc wreaked by Covid potentially creating a “lost generation”.

She will recommend the creation of a National Commission for Economic Recovery, bringing together business, government, unions, education and other parts of civil society, and call for work to start before the pandemic has come to a close.