Coronavirus: UK government launches five 'recovery roundtables' to save jobs

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Business secretary Alok Sharma. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The UK government has stepped up its efforts to involve business leaders in policymaking, as officials look at how to stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus crisis.

With the pandemic and lockdown battering UK firms and warnings of the steepest recession in decades, ministers have asked business chiefs to help shape recovery planning.

The government announced on Monday it will hold the first of a series of “recovery roundtables” including officials, business leaders and academics. Their remit will be to consider how to support recovery and ensure the “right skills and opportunities are in place for our workforce over the next 18 months.”

Analysts increasingly expect recovery to be weak with demand subdued and social distancing curbing activity. Some expect the tapering off of government support as lockdown restrictions ease to spark job losses among workers currently protected through employment schemes.

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It is the latest in a string of efforts to involve business leaders in economic policy, from the furlough scheme to health and safety guidelines. The apparent ‘corporatist’ approach marks a contrast with the severe strain in relations between business chiefs and the Conservative government in recent years over Brexit.

Five new working groups, made up of 20-25 participants and chaired by business secretary Alok Sharma, have been established. Membership has not yet been revealed, but the five groups will focus on:

  • The future of industry, including accelerating business innovation and leveraging private sector investment in research and development.

  • Green recovery, including capturing growth opportunities from the shift to net-zero carbon emissions.

  • Backing new businesses, including ways to “make the UK the best place in the world to start and scale a business.”

  • Increasing opportunity, including ways to “level up economic performance” across the UK through skills and apprenticeships.

  • Showing the UK is “open for business,” including securing and retaining more high-value investment for the UK.

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The roundtables come on top of five sector-specific taskforces that have already been established to shape the reopening of different areas of the economy.

Sharma said: “These roundtables are a redoubling of our efforts to listen to and work with the business community and academic experts as we consider the measures needed to support our economic bounce-back.

“The output from this initiative will feed directly into the government’s work on economic recovery and will help deliver the commitments we made to the British people only last December, which now take on an even greater sense of urgency and importance.”

Other parties will also be able to input into the working groups through written submissions, according to the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS).