Its autumn regional economic survey reveals that many companies in the South East region, which includes Milton Keynes, feel there is no need to raise skills levels. They are upbeat about prospects for both output and employment but cite red tape, inadequate transport infrastructure and the costs of both labour and energy as major barriers to business growth.

The CBI’s Thames Valley regional director Steve Rankin said these were “very worrying signals for the future of the South East economy.” He added: “Unless we raise our game on skills and investment in innovation, the region will soon cease to be the economic engine of the UK and any hopes of becoming one of the fastest-growing regions in the world will be illusory.”

The CBI has called on business and the government to work together to maintain the South East’s position as the UK’s economic flagship. The South East England Development Agency urged firms to focus on raising their levels of enterprise, productivity and economic activity to take on the challenge from the booming economies of China and India.

CBI South East regional director Malcolm Hyde said: “For some time, business has been voicing its concerns on factors that inhibit its ability to grow and, more importantly, compete on the world stage. The simple truth is that if the South East struggles, then so too does the UK. Not all the answers lie with business, neither do they all sit with government. There needs to be an understanding and commitment by both for the South East to flourish, let alone achieve the status of a world-class region.”

The CBI was among the regional organisations that contributed to the South East’s newly-launched Regional Economic Strategy. SEEDA business and international director Jeff Alexander said: ” This recognises that it would be folly to assume that the South East’s current position as a world-class region is assured. However, the emergence of new global economic powers houses such as China and India offers real opportunities to build on the existing concentrations of excellence in the South East by becoming more enterprising, innovative and skilled.

“We must focus on the principles of smart growth, raising levels of enterprise, productivity and economic activity throughout the region.””

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