CBI chief attacks Thatcherism urging 'Levelling Up' detail

CBI chief attacks Thatcherism and ‘free market failure’ for blighting communities as he complains PM has given ‘very little’ information about how he will ‘Level Up’ the country

  • CBI chief Tony Danker said governments let ‘old industries die’ since the 1980s
  • Mr Danker said left-behind communities are doomed through ‘benign neglect’
  • Complained that the PM has given ‘very little’ detail about Levelling Up plans 

The head of the CBI today launch a damning attack on Thatcherism and ‘free market failure’ claiming it has left swathes of the country in decline.

Director-general Tony Danker jibed that governments have let ‘old industries die’ since the 1980s, dooming the communities left behind with ‘benign neglect’.

He swiped that Mr Johnson had so far given ‘very little’ detail on how he plans to ‘Level Up’ the country – branding the axing of key HS2 and Northern Powerhouse lines ‘disappointing’.

The comments came as the PM gave a rambling speech to the conference in South Shields, in which he again dodged fleshing out his policy soundbite.   

Director-general Tony Danker will tell the Confederation of British Industry conference that successive governments have let ‘old industries die’ since the 1980s, with the communities facing ‘benign neglect’ ever since

Mr Danker told business leaders: ‘What the UK needs to really level up is economic growth in every place. Growth that in turn provides better-paid jobs, skilled work, firm-level success and that creates the kind of virtuous circle that really helps a place to prosper.

‘The truth is that the UK long suffered from de-industrialisation. Since the 1980s, we let old industries die – offering little more than benign neglect for what got left behind – it was an economic policy that was at best ambivalent about levelling down.

‘Too relaxed about a brain drain as young people leave home to chase better wages and jobs. 

‘Wages higher in the South than the North. Multinational corporations overwhelmingly located in the South East where new industries thrived. Shuttered high streets in towns and cities left behind.

‘We have spent decades living with these consequences. But now we’ve got a shot at redemption, a chance to regenerate with nascent industries, such as biotech, space and cybersecurity, emerging in all parts of the country.

‘Even more so with net zero, which creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the UK’s industrial heartlands to lead in this new industrial revolution as they did the last.’

In an interview with Sky News, Mr Danker said the premier had given ‘very little’ detail about how he will revive regional economies outside the South East.

‘There has been lots of talk about the politics, about mayors and how our high streets look, and so on,’ he said.

‘What the Government hasn’t got on to yet is how do we get people better jobs, how do we get better skills, how do we make places like this (the North East) as much a hub of economic activity as the South?

He swiped that Mr Johnson had so far given ‘very little’ detail on how he plans to ‘Level Up’ the country – branding the axing of key HS2 and Northern Powerhouse lines ‘disappointing’

‘Now that isn’t easy for Government to do, they can’t do it alone.

‘But we’ve really heard very little from the Prime Minister and the Government yet on how to do that, and that’s what I hope we’ll talk about today.’ 

The CBI is usually seen as a champion of the free-market economy, and Mr Danker’s speech is likely to anger acolytes of Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Johnson has put ‘levelling up’ the North at the centre of his agenda as Prime Minister, with the policy credited with earning the Tories a host of Red Wall seats at the 2019 general election.

Mr Danker has previously worked at business consultancy McKinsey, the Treasury and the firm that publishes The Guardian newspaper. 

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