May 16, 2012 12:15 am

Face ‘hard truths’, CBI head tells bosses

The president of the CBI employers’ group will on Wednesday urge business leaders to confront some “hard truths” to deliver their side of the bargain to get the economy moving again.

Sir Roger Carr, chairman of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, will warn colleagues they have lost public respect, have an outdated “sense of entitlement” and are failing to export to the right markets.

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“We must fight to regain respect and earn a reputation as the first-choice career destination for the talented and ambitious,” he will say in a speech at the CBI’s annual dinner.

But Sir Roger will also take a swipe at the education system, warning that deficiencies in literacy and numeracy are not only failing young people but are “devastating on a commercial level”.

He took part in a meeting of David Cameron’s business advisory group on Monday, which called a truce after a weekend in which ministers told corporate critics to stop “whingeing” and work harder.

Company chiefs accepted that they, as well as the government, had an important role in promoting growth and investment.

Sir Roger, who is also deputy chairman of the court of the Bank of England, will tell colleagues: “Now is the time to be more transparent, more responsible and more accountable.”

He will urge them to “accept that we deserve nothing. The sense of entitlement, at all levels, we seem to have are legacies from a different age”.

Business leaders must “earn our way in the world, be smart enough to know what we are good at, brave enough to reach out to new markets, bright enough to develop new products and driven enough to beat the competition – there is no other way”.

Sir Roger will warn that Britain’s relative export performance in emerging markets is poor because “there are simply not enough of us fishing in the right pools”.

“Despite our inherent advantages of timezone and language and despite the strengths we have built up in specialised manufacturing, creative industries and professional services, we are still not punching at our weight, let alone above it. This has to change.”

He will say of the education system: “On a human level, having so many unable to read, write or add up properly is a tragic waste – of talent and of opportunity. But this is devastating on a commercial level too.”

The CBI said on Tuesday that the government was sending “mixed messages” to employers after Theresa May, home secretary, announced reforms to equalities lergislation in the latest round of the red tape challenge.

The employers’ group welcomed plans to remove rules that make employers liable for harassment of an employee by a third party such as a customer, and those permitting questionnaires that “fish” for information before employment tribunals.

But the CBI was disappointed “that the government has not had the courage to take bureaucratic and ineffective rules on gender pay reporting and dual discrimination off the statute book”.

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