A message from the Director General, April 2012

Each month, Simon Walker, the Director General of the IoD, writes a message to members on a key issue of the day. This can be found in print in Director Magazine and from now on also here on the IoD blog:

A message from the Director General,  April 2012

The UK needs to be open for business. We are a trading nation. We took Britain into the world and adapted well when the world came to Britain. But there are signs that the UK is closing up. First, we don’t have enough airport capacity around London. Emerging market destinations are served by daily direct flights from European hubs but not from London. Second, we have the highest taxes on flying in the world. Air passenger duty revenues have tripled in 10 years. Business class travellers flying from London to Singapore pay £170 tax compared with £40 a decade ago.

Perhaps most seriously, our visa system is now difficult and expensive. The costly and restrictive student visa regime is discouraging talented overseas students from applying to
our universities – depriving Britain of fee income and valuable post-academic relationships with other countries.  Firms dependent on scientific and engineering expertise aren’t able to recruit the global talent they need.

The political discourse has also appeared to have turned against immigration. For three elections many politicians and much of the media have been peddling a falsehood – that immigrants to Britain take more out of society than they put in.  “Economic migrants need schools for their children. They need housing. They need medical care,” wrote the Daily Mirror. “Jobs dry up but Poles stay to reap the benefits,” claimed the Daily Mail. But the reality is very different.

Immigrants use public services but the restrictive planning system is the real reason for our housing shortage. Migrants can fill the gaps in the UK workforce and often bring a work ethic that’s missing from those more easily able to claim welfare benefits. People who travel long distances to establish lives in other countries are, perhaps unsurprisingly, highly motivated and they bring economic advantages to our communities.

Three years ago University College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration analysed the effects of migration from the central and eastern European countries that joined the European Union (EU) in May 2004. Those eligible to claim benefits were 60 per cent less likely than native Britons to receive state benefits or tax credits and 58 per cent less likely to live in social housing. They also had a higher labour force participation rate, paid more in indirect taxes and used public services less. The report found that each year since EU enlargement, these immigrants made a positive contribution to public finances.

Britain is a global business hub because it has always been an open society. Border controls should block those who threaten life and liberty but it’s not an excuse for closing Britain to people whose skills and enterprise will contribute to the common economic good.

Simon Walker
Director General of the Institute of Directors


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