66% of UK CEOs agree skills and infrastructure priority for government

February 15, 2016

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It’s fascinating to see in this week’s launch of our ‘Government and global CEO’ report that 66% of UK CEOs agree skills and infrastructure are a priority for government.  But at a time of change and uncertainty globally, how can government and business work together to deliver this priority - and prosperity and higher living standards for the UK public? This key question finds some answers in PwC’s 19th Annual Global CEO Survey, launched recently in Davos.

Previous research we have undertaken reveals that investing in infrastructure and skills (along with devolving more powers) are key enablers of good growth and higher productivity. And, as mentioned above, this is endorsed by UK CEOs, two thirds of whom saw as their top two priorities for the UK Government a ‘skilled, educated and adaptable workforce and ‘adequate physical and digital infrastructure’. In each case the UK figure of 66% of CEOs in agreement is well ahead of the global average (of around half of CEOs surveyed).

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Significantly, CEOs also view these same priorities as the most important for UK society as a whole, with 92% of UK CEOs seeing a skilled, educated and adaptable workforce as important to society (against 76% globally), and 54% citing adequate physical and digital infrastructure (40% globally).

Acquiring the right skills is clearly essential to meeting desired outcomes for citizens, particularly those entering the labour force, for getting a job and earning a decent income. But another key issue is matching people to opportunities so that the right skills are in the right places at the right time.

In addition, business needs effective, efficient and sustainable infrastructure – the backbone on which economic success and prosperity can grow. In particular, transport, which is so important for connectivity nationally and internationally, needs focus as does housing.

Interestingly, the third-ranked priority - highlighted by 56% of UK CEOs for attention by the UK Government - is ‘a clearly understood, stable and effective tax system’ and this is rated by CEOs globally as the top priority for their own governments.

The fact that the UK remains a major focus for investment among CEOs globally suggests that the UK Government is playing a part in creating and sustaining a conducive environment in which to do business.

Similarly, the vast majority of UK CEOs surveyed (78%) think the UK Government has been effective in achieving high levels of employment, more than double the proportion of global CEOs who say the same about their own governments (32%).

Meanwhile although over-regulation remains UK CEOs’ biggest concern (for 82% of UK respondents), this is also down from 87% last year. And concerns over government actions appear to be receding: the government’s response to the fiscal debt burden is rated as a concern by only 48% of UK CEOs this year, down sharply from 69% last year, and well below the 82% recorded in France and 79% in the US.

But while these are signs of positive progress, as the Chancellor consistently points out there is still much to be done to repair the public finances. In particular, public bodies can help themselves and businesses to deliver value for the economy and society by:

  1. Strategically managing their costs in the face of budgetary pressure and ever increasing demands on public services. This requires a fundamental reassessment of the public sector cost base in relation to the outcomes to be achieved.
  2. Taking a fundamental look at the purpose of public bodies, invoking a zero based strategic review of the activities, costs and assets of public bodies. This requires finance functions in governments to step up and play their role, delivering insights through analysis.
  3. Building the digital capability of public sector organisations as well as the agility and resilience to cope with future changes.
  4. Retaining and attracting the talent needed to deliver better public services, often under severe competition from the private sector at a time of public sector cuts and pay restraint.

As the world copes with rising tensions and uncertainty, the key message from UK CEOs’ is that business and government need to work better together for their mutual benefit, and the wellbeing of the UK as a whole.

Find out more in our report ‘Government and the Global CEO: Redefining success in a changing world’ which is downloadable from PwC’s Public Sector Research Centre.

 

Tina Hallett | Government and Public Sector Lead Partner
Email | +44 (0)20 7804 1704