Sunday, October 17News That Matters

PM to hold talks with bosses amid unrest at axing of industrial strategy

Boris Johnson will hold talks next week with dozens of Britain’s leading businesspeople amid unease at the government’s decision to scrap its commitment to an industrial strategy.

Sky News has learnt that the prime minister’s Build Back Better Council will meet next Tuesday, with the chancellor and business secretary also expected to attend.

The council comprises 30 of the UK’s top corporate bosses, including Philip Jansen, the BT Group chief executive; Lord Deighton, Heathrow Airport chairman; Dame Carolyn McCall, ITV chief executive; and Charlotte Hogg, who runs Visa’s European operations.

Philip Jansen Group CEO Pic: BT
Image: BT boss Philip Jansen. Pic: BT

Sources said on Wednesday that Mr Johnson’s aides had notified council members that next week’s session would focus on the government’s “plan for growth”, and was aimed at exploring ways that the public and private sectors could work together to aid the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three senior Whitehall officials, including Jo Shanmugalingam from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, have been asked to assist the council’s work, according to one insider.

Phil Duffy, an infrastructure official, and Paul Kett, a director-general at the Department for Education, will also be involved, they added.

The second meeting of the PM’s business advisory group will take place against a backdrop of unrest at the recent decision to scrap the government’s Industrial Strategy Council.

More from Business

That committee, which was chaired by the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane, has criticised significant elements of the government’s economic plans.

Andy Haldane says a rates rise would be a 'good news story'
Image: The Bank of England’s Andy Haldane

Government officials have denied any weakening of its commitment to British industry and described the pivot to a “plan for growth” as representing a “similar approach using a different label”.

“We know the best way to rebuild our economy is to beat COVID which is why we have invested billions in new vaccines and a national testing operation so that we can reopen the economy safely as soon as possible in the future,” Mr Johnson said in January.

“But despite this we – like many other countries – face a huge economic challenge. And as we recover from this crisis it won’t be enough to just go back to normal – our promise will be to Build Back Better and level up opportunity for people and businesses across the UK.”

A No 10 spokesman said the next meeting of the Build Back Better council “would be announced in the usual way”.