CBI chief: UK economy will need more support to get through second lockdown

LONDON — The coronavirus has created a “Darwinian moment” for the U.K. economy, which the government needs to match with a massive job creation program, the outgoing head of business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry said.

Carolyn Fairbairn, speaking to POLITICO as she ends her five-year term as director general of the CBI, said the work of economic revival needed to start even before the immediate pandemic crisis has passed.

Praising the government’s work to protect jobs to date, which the CBI advised the Treasury on, Fairbairn nonetheless warned that a second national lockdown, without more support and without allowing “COVID-secure” businesses to continue operating where possible, could lead to “permanent damage.” (Fairbairn spoke to POLITICO on Friday, before the government’s announcement of new national COVID-19 restrictions.)

Proposing a new “national commission for economic recovery” consisting of businesses, government, unions, universities, colleges and local leaders, she said that to leave such an effort until after the crisis had ended would mean it was “too late.” She added that the government should learn lessons from the spring in managing the economy through further national restrictions and that firms were now COVID-secure, testing capacity had been transformed and “tried and tested” financial packages are in place.

“By the time you put in place all the sensible measures you might want, people will have already lost their jobs,” she said. “I have a real worry about the next generation and unemployment. The single thing I think the government could do which would make the most difference is to work with business, hand in glove, to create a one-year revival plan that is practical, that is directed at job creation.”

Fairbairn — whose tenure coincided with the Brexit referendum,

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