The UK Government should seize “a historic opportunity for a reset” in the post-pandemic economy, according to a member of the Covid Recovery Commission upon the release of its final paper.
Titled Ambition 2030: A Partnership for Growth, the independent commission’s third report urges greater cooperation on policies from government, businesses, universities, and communities. Rapid development of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is cited as an example of what can be achieved through such collaborations.
“The benefits are multiple, but most importantly you get the parts of the economy doing what they are best equipped to do. Look at the vaccine – university innovation, combined with big business investment and scaling, combined with supportive government procurement and regulation,” says Covid Recovery Commission member Manoj Badale, co-founder of UK-based digital venture builder Blenheim Chalcot.
“We have a historic opportunity for a reset, and the post-pandemic growth challenges are immense.”
The report recommends actions to emerge from the pandemic with an economy that is stronger, fairer and more resilient. The authors propose a National Prosperity Plan capable of delivering economic growth and boosting UK living standards. They identify five immediate national imperatives to help secure the economic recovery:
– Creating the conditions for innovation and value-added growth
– Investing in the skills of the future
– Investing in and delivering world-class infrastructure
– Decarbonising energy demand to deliver net-zero
– Building personal and community resilience
From the wide range of recommendations, Badale identifies innovation as being the key driver of future economic growth.
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“We are in the business of innovation, and as such the recommendations on unlocking pension fund money for growth businesses, along with the development of catapult quarters – innovation districts – and a regulatory environment that promotes national competitiveness,” he says.
Large sections of the report are dedicated to ‘levelling up’ regions of the UK. The recommended creation of catapult quarters involves dedicated regions focusing on innovations in specific industry areas. Despite the existing presence of community-based investment zones such as freeports and university-led innovation areas, Badale believes these need to go further.
“You need all of the conditions – most importantly the combination of talent with scale-up capital,” he says.
Investing in communities and skills
The report examines the wider role of businesses in local communities. The authors suggest that companies should have their contribution to the area they operate in measured and graded. Badale says that businesses should also look to value people instead of just profits.
“We need businesses to be more purpose-led, with clear scorecards of their local contribution, and the ability to start measuring the human balance sheet – not just the financial balance sheet,” he adds.
Implementing recommendations from the report will take significant government investment, which will increase public debt further after the billions already spent on responding to the pandemic. This follows a decade of austerity in the UK after the 2008 global banking crisis.
The post-Brexit trade arrangements create further uncertainty. Alongside this are the challenges in meeting carbon emission reduction targets in line with net-zero commitments. However, Badale believes that the best way forward is through growth and not cuts.
“The only way we solve the public debt challenge is through growth, which generates government income,” he says.
To make the UK more competitive globally, the report recommends addressing national skills shortages. By 2030, this gap is predicted in areas such as digital services, management, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
On top of this are fears that the unemployment rate could surge once government furlough ends in September, with as many as 2.2 million people potentially unemployed by the end of 2021.
The commission proposes introducing lifelong learning and a ‘Help to Train’ policy to halve the 2030 skills gap. Everyone aged over 25 would have an individual learner account, providing them with the option to retrain and gain new skills for future jobs.
Badale suggests a focus on digital and data skills “not just for young people – but retraining large parts of the workforce.”