Transport and education woes must be tackled after election, businesses warn

Apr 11 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Whoever wins the General Election on May 5, transport and education need to be key political priorities for the next five years, business leaders have stressed.

The Confederation of British Industry has said that without progress on those two areas, Britain will continue to lag behind on competitiveness.

Director general Sir Digby Jones said there was widespread dissatisfaction among business leaders on transport and education.

"Every party needs the wealth business creates to fund the plans we're about to see them spell out," he said.

"We need the party leaders to publicly recognise the importance of profit. None of them can provide extra police or new schools without the tax companies pay and the tax-paying jobs they create.

"As the next parliament progresses, competitive pressures – especially from India and China – will increasingly put that at risk," he added.

A CBI survey of more than 400 firms found that transport was the number-one service affecting competitiveness.

More than nine out of 10 – 94 per cent – said it was important, more than for any other public service.

But 89 per cent of firms were dissatisfied with the reform of public transport, including 53 per cent who were very dissatisfied.

The next government, whatever its political hue, needed to commit at least £300bn of public and private investment to UK transport over the next ten years, it added.

"A better transport system is crucial for business. But it is also a key election issue on which parties will be judged. All voters may not regularly use hospitals or schools, but transport touches their lives everyday and it is one of the largest single items of household spending. Tucking it away in a box marked 'too difficult and too expensive' will not do," said Sir Digby.

The same CBI survey showed 92 per cent of firms believed education was a key factor in their performance but, again, 73 per cent were unhappy with the education system.

The Government therefore needed to raise the standards of English and Maths among 16 year olds and to invest in improving the flawed basic skills of 15 million adults.

A third of companies were forced to give school leavers remedial training to compensate for shortcomings in the state education system, the CBI added.

Sir Digby said: "The UK will not be able to compete in the modern global economy unless we have well-educated and motivated employees. The next government must build on the current government's initiative to increase literacy in secondary education, and improve vocational training.

"It needs to focus on improving the basic skills of school leavers and achieve dramatic progress in both literacy and numeracy."