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Sunak's summit success: But can the UK deliver on the promise?

By George Thomas
28 November 2023
Public Affairs

Rishi Sunak claims that at yesterday’s Global Investment Summit he was able to secure three times the amount in new foreign inward investment into the UK that Boris Johnson was able to announce at his event back in 2021.  

The figure of £29.5 billion is undeniably impressive. The investment should lead to thousands of jobs being created across sectors such as Tech, life sciences, renewables, Housing, and infrastructure.

The guest list for the Investment Summit was equally impressive. Senior leaders from Wall Street including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan were all in attendance. The event at Hampton Court Palace culminated in a royal reception held at Buckingham Palace

What might perturb the current Conservative leader, however, was the number of those global business figures who made time earlier in the day to meet Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves. Business opted to cover all political bases, reflecting the reality of the governing party languishing as much as 20 points behind in the polls.

It’s a recognition also of the fact that on his own, the current inhabitant of Downing Street cannot provide the long-term assurance and stability business craves. The business community is looking for an explicit assurance that any potential Labour Government views the UK investment landscape in much the same way as does Rishi Sunak.

Last week’s Autumn Statement included a permanent extension of capital allowances, substantial business rate support, freeport tax relief extension, and initiatives like the Growth Fund, the Advanced Manufacturing Plan, and new Investment Zones.

This kind of package of incentives is long overdue. Last week also saw the publication of a review by Lord Harrington which provided an honest explanation of how the UK is falling behind its European counterparts in attracting foreign investment.

It detailed how countries such as France, Ireland and Spain all have long term strategies in place to streamline and support foreign investment. Lord Harrington set out a clear case for a less siloed and risk-averse approach by central government, emphasising the need for co-ordinated efforts between departments and agencies to enhance the UK's attractiveness for investment.

The Government hopes that recent commitments like Nissan's £2 billion investment in the UK become a more regular occurrence. Labour takes the same view.

But the real test lies ahead. Can the UK and devolved governments and an increasingly overwhelmed civil service overcome bureaucratic barriers to deliver on that promise?