UK plc needs to sell itself better, says incoming CBI president

Sir Roger Carr says business has failed to show that it is 'a force for good'. Let's hope he can do something about that...

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 15 Jun 2011
As the ex-chairman of Cadbury, Sir Roger Carr knows a thing or two about awkward takeovers. And the City boardroom veteran has no doubt about the extent of his challenge he faces as the new president of the CBI (today's his first day on the job). Speaking to the Independent on Sunday, Carr insisted that the CBI's voice has become even more powerful in recent years - but he believes that business as a whole has not done enough to convince the general public of the benefits it brings to society. Presumably that'll be item number one on his to-do list, in that case...

The good news, says Sir Roger, is that everyone's singing from the same hymn sheet at the moment: 'The interests of business, the coalition and society are aligned for the first time in a long time... Everybody understands now that if we are to survive as a country we have only one option – growth, growth and more growth.' That means that making life easier for UK plc is in the Government's interests; and he says that in terms of corporate tax and regulation, the Coalition has 'made a good start'.

However, he clearly has no intention of being a Government cheerleader. He's already banging the drum about cutting the top rate of income tax, which he says is ‘a deterrent to people who want to build businesses'. And - thanks largely to his other role as chairman of Centrica - he's hopping mad about the Budget levy on oil and gas companies. The former may be able to suck it up, but not the likes of Centrica, he says. 'Now it won't be worth our while to develop many of the small fields. So we will be stopping £700m of new investment, many jobs will be lost and we'll move our skill sets to other projects.' He and CBI director-general John Cridland are also apparently working on two-year plan to put pressure on the Government to speed up growth.

Happily, he also seems to suggest that his role - and that of the CBI - is not just about lobbying in Whitehall. It's also about trying to convince a sometimes sceptical public that big British business are a force for good - that they 'invest in research, pay fair taxes and are good for society’. He clearly thinks UK plc has failed on that score in recent years; and as the largest and probably influential business group, the CBI should be at the forefront of such efforts. It’ll be interesting to see what this amounts to in practice during his tenure.

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