Blair sees HR as vital in future success of UK plc

The importance of HR in the future of business success at home and in Europe
was underlined by the Prime Minster in a speech to industry leaders in
Birmingham.

Tony Blair said the future stability of the UK economy would only be
delivered through human capital measures, such as skills development and
vocational education.

"A country’s success is achieved through the skills and education of
its people. Its human capital is its major asset. We need an economy based on a
high level of skills and one that will generate prosperity and wealth," he
said.

He predicted that employers would require an additional two million
highly-skilled staff in the next decade, and said a mix of more vocational
training, graduates and greater interaction between employers and universities
was the right way forward.

He reiterated the Government’s commitment to driving up the skills required
by business and said that although 156,000 people had achieved basic skills
qualifications since 2001, he wanted 1.5 million people through the system by
2007.

Blair also cited the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme as a key area of
development and said he hoped that by the end of 2004, 28 per cent of youngsters
would be enrolled on a programme.

He said greater global competition made job losses inevitable, but companies
and the Government should now focus on training and consultation with staff to
deal with them.

"If a factory shuts down, we should have a taskforce to look at
people’s skills and changing them where necessary to get them back into
work," said Blair.

He conceded that the Government needed a better relationship with business
over work- place legislation, but said a new Planning Bill would simplify and
speed up the current process.

Blair also called for more business engagement with Europe – and the reforms
of its institutions – to ensure Britain’s interests are best served in what
will be the world’s largest market.

"Being in the EU brings massive benefits in trade, jobs and prosperity.
The EU is the most effective way that Britain can make its voice heard on
global issues. To be anti-Europe is to be anti-business, but a reform agenda is
also vital," he said.

He urged greater reforms of the European labour market and said the EU must
put jobs and competitiveness at the heart of its economy – hinting at his
unhappiness with the current draft of the Agency Workers Directive.

"On issues like the Agency Workers Directive, Europe must think first
about jobs and competition. We need a new approach to regulation, one that
overcomes the instinct to regulate and harmonise," he said.

Blair insisted the Government had drawn a ‘red line’ under certain policies
that the EU would not override, such as tax harmonisation and, crucially, a
charter of rights that could overrule current UK labour laws.

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