Britain needs more migrant labour to boost productivity as it faces a toxic mix of soaring inflation and shrinking growth, the country’s main business lobby group warned Monday.
The verdict from the Confederation of British Industry came at its annual gathering in Birmingham, Britain’s second-biggest city.
The CBI conference comes after the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week slashed spending and hiked taxes in a budget, despite admitting that the inflation-wracked economy had fallen into recession.
“We come together, once more in extraordinary times,” CBI director-general Tony Danker told delegates in Birmingham, central England.
“Britain is in the middle of stagflation — rocketing inflation and negative growth — for the first time that probably most of us can remember.
“We know how to fight inflation. We know how to fight the recession. But we don’t really know how to fight them together.”
Sunak, who also addressed the CBI on Monday, took office one month ago after predecessor Liz Truss delivered an unfunded tax-slashing mini-budget that tanked the pound and sent UK borrowing costs soaring.
UK inflation sits at a 41-year peak of 11.1 percent on rocketing food and energy costs in the wake of the Ukraine war.
Consumer prices have raced higher also as demand rebounds following the lifting of pandemic lockdowns.
That has worsened a cost-of-living crisis for businesses and individuals, hit also by soaring interest rates as the Bank of England seeks to cool runaway inflation.
The UK has forecast its economy to shrink 1.4 percent next year, hit additionally by fallout from Brexit which has resulted in foreign workers returning home.
“When you look at the (growth) data, the only thing holding it up, actually, is higher hours worked due to higher immigration,” Danker added Monday.
“People are arguing against immigration — but it’s the only thing that has increased our growth potential since March.
“Let’s be honest — we don’t have the people we need, nor do we have the productivity.”
Addressing the conference, Sunak ducked the CBI’s call for more legal migrant labour — and stressed that he was focussed on curbing illegal migration.
Anita Donohoe, a conference attendee representing Kinaxia Logistics, said that while “immigration is very important”, Sunak is right to “tackle illegal immigration”.
She told AFP: “Focus on the legal immigration,” adding that her company has suffered as a result of losing truck drivers.
Andrew Guy of Friisberg and Partners hit out over Britain’s departure from the European Union for contributing to a skills shortage and affecting businesses generally, including their exports.
“I’m anti-Brexit in every way. There is not one good thing that came out of it,” he insisted.
“Until the government acknowledges its mistakes we’ll continue to struggle.”
Cost of inflation
Sunak also told CBI delegates that the budget sought “to grip inflation and balance the books”.
“The best way to help people is by stopping mortgages, rents and food prices from spiralling out of control,” Sunak said.
“Re-establishing stability is the critical first step. But there is so much more we need to do,” he added, stressing he wants to see more business innovation to boost economic activity.
A study published Monday revealed that restaurant insolvencies increased almost 60 percent over the last year.
“As well as increasing food and energy costs, restaurants have been hit by shortages of labour, particularly for skilled roles such as chefs, which has pushed up staff costs,” according to accountancy firm Mazars, which carried out the survey.