1. What is the CBI?
The UK’s most effective and influential business organisation. The CBI speaks on behalf of 190,000 businesses. Together they employ nearly 7 million people, about one-third of the private sector-employed workforce.
2. How does being a leader entrepreneur assist in your position as head of the CBI and how important is diversity to you?
“As CBI President, I have 4 priorities for my term. Each of them vital in their own way during normal times, let alone as we look to recover from a global pandemic.
Firstly, the importance of entrepreneurship and advocating for the importance of SMEs.
Having built Cobra Beer from scratch, I know first-hand the powerful role that entrepreneurs, innovators, and SMEs can play in the economy.
From the outside, the CBI is often labelled as ‘big business’. We are incredibly proud to have most of the UK’s leading blue-chip companies in our membership, but the vast majority of those we speak for are actually SMEs; independent retailers, family-run firms and creative disruptors – 190,000 businesses throughout the UK employing over 7 million people.
Secondly, promoting the role of universities in supporting and developing research, innovation and skills in this country.
As Chancellor of the University of Birmingham I am a passionate supporter of higher education. And we stand to gain so much from stronger links between business and universities.
Thirdly, diversity and immigration. Both are a critical component of a prosperous economy.
I moved to the UK from India when I was nineteen. And this country has given me the opportunity to build my business and my career. So I believe that immigration and equality of opportunity play an invaluable role – not only in meeting our economic aspirations but ensuring that Britain continues to be one of the highest recipients of inward investment in the world. I also want to promote the participation of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community in business, including on FTSE 350 Boards. We’re going to champion the Parker Review and make sure that there is a BAME colleague on every FTSE 350 board (FTSE 100 by 2021 and FTSE 250 by 2024).
And my final priority is our international outreach.
I know ‘Global Britain’ is something people often talk about in the corridors of Westminster. But it’s real. Exports account for almost a third of UK GDP; we are and always have been a trading nation. I believe that making the UK an exporting powerhouse is critical to our economic recovery. All the more so once the transition period with the EU finishes by the end of 2020, by which point we must have a good deal to shield UK businesses from even more downward pressure and we at the CBI will do all we can to help the government achieve this.
There are many unknowns out there at present for us all, right now. But we can take heart that during this crisis, we’ve adapted as a people, we’ve collaborated as a people, we’ve put community spirit back into the community. And that’s business as well – along with our heroic key workers on the front line – throughout this crisis. British businesses are part of what makes the UK great, creating opportunities for people and funding our public services.
Let us never forget it in the tough times that lie ahead; business is a force for good.”
3. As someone who is the president of a lobbying organisation – how do you think the Government has performed during COVID 19? Is there anything that they could still do?
“The Chancellor and the Government deserve enormous credit for their response so far to the economic distress that many businesses and workers are facing. The Job Retention Scheme has supported more than 9m people and Government-backed loans worth £45bn to date to over 1 million businesses which have saved countless jobs and businesses. It is testament to what we can achieve together between Government, business and unions, working at speed and at scale.
And now, as the economy slowly but surely re-opens, it’s absolutely right that the Chancellor evolves those support schemes as they wind down and prioritise jobs in every corner of the country. After months of turbulence and job loss announcements, a plan to flatten the daunting unemployment curve about to hit our country could not be more important. Joblessness scars lives and hits the young and most disadvantaged hardest; it cuts people off from opportunities and a chance to reach their potential. As the UK gets back to work safely, unemployment is the biggest threat to livelihoods.
Prevention is better than cure, and that is why the Government may yet have to take more direct action over the summer to support businesses. Many viable firms are facing maximum jeopardy right now still, the small window of opportunity is closing fast. The Kick Starter Scheme will help create jobs for the youth. But with nearly 70% of firms running low on cash, and three in four reporting lack of demand, more immediate direct support for firms, from grants to further business rates relief, is still urgently needed. ”
4. What is the view of the CBI with regards to Brexit and what have you proposed to Government?
“Recent progress shows what’s possible in these vital negotiations, despite the challenge of the pandemic. An ambitious deal with the EU is essential to shield firms from a further trade shock at a time when they are least equipped to cope.
‘What’s clear is that the majority of firms have neither the time nor resources to prepare for a non-negotiated EU exit.
While many larger firms have long had plans in place for a no-deal outcome, smaller firms will struggle to cope with a double dose of disruption. The same is true across the Channel, with EU companies’ preparations also hit hard by the pandemic.
Businesses on both sides are desperate for a deal that protects their economies at this most precarious of times.
A deal that supports the UK’s world leading services firms and keeps UK exporters free from red tape, costs and new trade barriers is paramount as the UK takes its all-important steps towards recovery.”
5. You have been recently appointed to the West Midlands India partnership and with your links to India – how important will India be to the UK in view of Brexit?
“As the founding chairman of the UK India Business Council, I have always believed passionately in the special relationship that exits between the UK and India.
India is an emerging global economic superpower and the potential to vastly increase bilateral trade, business and investment both ways is huge – we are only scathing the surface currently.
The West Midlands has a large proportion of the India diaspora in the UK with very strong links to regions in India, including Punjab. The 1.5 million people of Indian origin in the UK form a living bridge between the UK and India.”
6. Where does the CBI stand around the 5G topic and Huawei?
The CBI has clearly laid its approach on this issue recently in the https://www.ft.com/content/11e46189-2bf7-423c-8fb8-7c1fcb79462f
7. As chancellor of Birmingham University – How important is skills to the future of the UK and what advice would you give to the UK government around the importance of universities and overseas students whilst they balance controlling immigration numbers?
“I am proud to be Chancellor of the University of Birmingham a Russell group university. One of the largest universities in the UK and one of the top 100 universities in the world.
My maternal grandfather graduated from the university in the 1930s, my mother graduated from there in the 1950s, I graduated from a UK university and I now have my own children that have graduated from and are studying in a UK university – that is 4 generations.
British universities are one of the strongest elements of soft power that the UK has. We have 450,000 international students studying at our universities contributing £26 billion to our economy each year and forming generation long links with the countries they come from.
At any on time there are more world leader educated in British and American Universities than any other country in the world.
I have been proud to be the founding co-chairman of the APPG for international students and I am President of UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs).
I am delighted that the government has now set a target to increase the international students to 600,000 and has also reintroduced the post graduate work visa which will help enormously in attracting students from all over the world.”