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Addressing UK productivity woes needs a long-term plan

I read with great interest reports that the Covid Recovery Commission, an independent group of UK business leaders, has released its latest report Ambition 2030: A Partnership for Growth, a 10-year blueprint to ensure the UK can develop globally competitive industries, deliver on the government’s net zero commitments, and address social and economic inequalities that have widened as a result of the pandemic. In short, a plan to deliver real and lasting change in every part of the country.

If we are to deliver a lasting economic recovery, ensure greater business resilience, and drive sustainable growth in the post-Brexit and COVID-19 world, we must have a long-term strategy to tackle structural issues that risk holding the UK back, such as our faltering productivity and widening skills gap. This is something our Association (AICPA & CIMA) has been advocating for throughout the pandemic, and I’m glad to see that our thinking is shared by others.

Worryingly, our 2020 Mind the Skills Gap research revealed that 84% of UK SME employees surveyed are not currently undertaking skills training or professional development and that only 3 in 10 SME workers have undertaken skills training and professional development in 2020 despite the rapidly changing nature of business and ways of working. This complacency towards learning and development was a nagging issue prior to the coronavirus crisis and could hamper the country’s long-term recovery if attitudes towards learning don’t change.

To meet the future skills challenge needed for a post-Brexit Britain and equip our workforce with the skills they to thrive in the future world of work, we need to better support all workers to reskill and help them and businesses adapt to be being both resilient and competitive. This includes:

  • Making a new push on digital skills to make the UK post-pandemic ready.
  • Expanding the Apprenticeship Levy to an Apprenticeship and Skills Levy for all workers to ensure businesses have the talent they need to succeed now and in the future.
  • Investing towards higher level apprenticeships to raise the skill levels of the UK workforce, meet the demands of the economy and encourage social mobility.
  • Introducing a rebuttable right to retrain to empower workers to request further training and development.
  • Proactively supporting businesses to seize new opportunities by creating a Growth Accelerator scheme for SMEs.
  • Creating and investing in skills clusters across the UK and look at models such as development corporations to help drive both public and private investment into left-behind regions.

While we know that these changes won’t happen overnight, we believe that investment, innovation and skills are the key ingredients to unlocking our country’s potential and moving it forward. And, to truly build back better and come out of the pandemic stronger, businesses, the government and civil society stakeholders must work closely work together.

AICPA & CIMA welcome your comments and suggestions on how the accounting and finance profession can drive trust, opportunity and growth.

Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA
Chief Executive – Management Accounting
Association of International Certified Professional Accountants