Net zero is ‘once in a generation’ opportunity for levelling up, says CBI

The UK’s net zero target could help redress a national imbalance, which has seen traditional industrial heartlands neglected in favour of London and the south east, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Speaking today at the organisation’s annual conference, CBI director-general Tony Danker argued that technologies such as hydrogen, offshore wind, carbon capture, electric vehicles and batteries offered a chance for places in the midlands and north to be “world leading again”.

The government has promised to redress economic imbalance across the country as part of its ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. 

Danker told the conference that the UK had “suffered hugely from de-industrialisation”.

“Since the 1980s, we let old industries die. [We were] too relaxed about a brain drain as young people leave home to chase better paid jobs. Wages are higher on average in the South than the North. Multinational corporations located overwhelmingly in the south east where new industries thrived. Shuttered high streets in towns and cities left behind. A loss of pride in place,” he said.

But Danker said that now the UK had “a shot at redemption” with nascent industries such as biotech, space and cybersecurity emerging in all parts of the country. “If this isn’t levelling up, I don’t know what is.”

He said that net zero “creates a once in a generation opportunity for the UK’s industrial heartlands to lead in this new industrial revolution as they did the last”. 

The CBI says neither the government nor business can level up alone and created the CBI Centre for Thriving Regions to encourage the private sector to engage in “genuine economic placemaking”.  

The centre will launch two pilot schemes and write a guidebook how to get high-quality industries, firms and jobs in all regions of the UK. 

The CBI said the centre would be staffed from all nations and regions of the UK. It will have a steering committee of local, national and multinational businesses, as well as universities or colleges, that will draw on the ideas of the CBI’s 800-strong regional council network.