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CBI: UK needs ‘COBR for business’ as economy lurches deeper into crisis

·3-min read
CBI director general Tony Danker (PA Wire)
CBI director general Tony Danker (PA Wire)

Britain’s top business group has called on the government to set up an emergency task force at the heart of government to tackle the cluster of ongoing crises that are threatening to derail the UK’s economic recovery.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the government needs to set up a ‘COBR’-style task force to help the economy, referencing the Cabinet Office Briefing Room emergency groups that are convened to tackle major crises like floods and terrorist attacks.

“After speaking with hundreds of business leaders this week it’s clear there’s a total mindset shift from growing to coping,” said Tony Danker, director general of the CBI. “This is now a major threat to our recovery, and the Government needs to step up its response to a new level of both speed and boldness.”

Britain is struggling with a number of interlinked economic crises, mostly stemming from a combination of Brexit and the pandemic.

Electricity prices have surged in recent weeks as global demand for gas has spiked as economies unlock. The squeeze has been made worse by low levels of gas supply across Europe after an unusually long and cold winter.

Rising prices have sent several smaller energy suppliers to the wall and left many others struggling for survival. Even large operators say current wholesale prices make their businesses unprofitable in the long term with the current energy price cap.

Soaring electricity prices have forced some factories to shut down at peak times, as operations are unprofitable with costs so high. The government was forced to intervene and pay to keep fertiliser manufacturer CF Industries operating after its shutdown created a CO2 shortage across the UK. The shortage threatened everything from meat supply to soft drinks as the gas is used in a wide range of manufacturing processes.

Meanwhile, the UK faces an estimated shortfall of around 100,000 lorry drivers. The shortage is leading to supply chain issues across the economy, with delays and shortages of everything from petrol to chicken.

The economy at large has over 1 million vacancies as employers struggle to fill jobs. Experts blame a combination of Brexit and the pandemic — both of which led many overseas workers to return to their home countries — and a skills mismatch, which many workers having the wrong qualifications for the jobs available.

The backdrop to all of this is soaring inflation, which is pushing up costs for businesses and already slowing the UK’s economic bounce back from COVID.

“While many of these challenges are global in nature, the solutions we need are local,” Danker said.

He called for temporary visas to allow overseas workers to help plug gaps in the economy. Danker also urged the government to offer support for the energy industry and industrial manufacturers to deal with the energy price crisis.

“Establishing a crisis management Taskforce to move quickly – with both business and government around the table – will ensure Government is far more informed about the nature and scale of the challenges; can formulate responses fast; and is able to get the support of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to take action required,” he said. “We stand ready to support the Government to do this.”

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Evening Standard Comment: From fuel to CO2, Johnson’s government risks lurching from crisis to crisis

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