Businesses need to ‘up their game’ to compete globally, former Trade Minister claims

Former trade minister Lord Price, who quit his government role ten days ago, has said UK businesses need to up their game to compete on a global footing in light of Brexit, while also addressing the longer term implications of where the UK should be heading.

Lord Price CVO in conversation with journalist Alex Forrest at the WSTA conference this week

Speaking to journalist Alex Forrest at the WSTA conference yesterday, Price, who headed up Waitrose and the John Lewis Partnership prior to his appointment as Minister of State for Trade in 2015, argued that the UK needs a longer term view of where the it is heading and not “obsess” about the minutiae.

He argued that Brexit was a “symptom” rather than a cure, pointing to people’s desire for answers to solve problems with the current economic system and the impact of the digital age on people’s lives.

“Although it is the biggest task this country has faced since the Second World War, for me it is not the biggest issue, it is a symptom of something else. People voted the way they did because they wanted to see change,” he said.

There are, he said, two ideologies that were fighting at the moment, but both were missing “the bigger picture” and getting bogged down in minutiae.

“We are missing the bigger picture of where do we want our country to be in five, 10 or 25 years’ time. How do we cope with the fact that there is real discontent over how the economic model works? How do we cope with the fact that the digital age is upon us which will create massive changes for society – the BRC is saying that 900,000 jobs will be lost in the next four years – how do we retrain and make it all the best it can be and take the opportunity of global free trade but also help British workers as they go through these changes?” he said.

He pointed out that industry in the UK was not fully prepared for the digital age, and urged business to think how they could “up their game” in terms of productivity to ensure that they could compete on a global footing in a post-Brexit world, as well as thinking about these fundamental questions.

“Have we got the right productivity levels in the UK to be globally competitive? The answer is no, so what are we going to do about it?” he asked the conference.

“Business will have look past [Brexit] to prepare for a world where Britain will be more open, with more free trade, and more competitive globally. There is a big upside for consumers to that, but business will have to think about how it ups its game to looks at productivity. The good thing is that it will have a few years to think about how and where it needs to invest in the right thing. But my sense is that is the flow and where we’re heading.”

He argued that the importance lay in a considered balance to grasp the opportunities and build the UK into a truly competitive business model in the world and to make sure it has the best support to do that.

He added that saying ‘Brexit is Brexit’ wasn’t trite, “we need to solve the fundamental problems, these are the things that need addressing,” he said.

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