Monday 6 November 2017 / 12:09 PM 2017 Press Archive / The Latest from Labour

Jeremy Corbyn speech at the CBI Annual Conference

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Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader
of the Labour Party,
speaking at the CBI
Annual Conference today, said:

It’s
a pleasure to be with you here for the second year running.

And
a good deal has changed since I came to your conference last year.

We’ve
had a surprise General Election and to many people here, perhaps an even more
surprising result. A result that returned a weak and divided Conservative
Government and a Labour opposition stronger and more united than before.

We
have also seen the terms of economic debate shift dramatically.

I
put it to you last year that for too many people the economic system simply
isn’t working.

A
system that has delivered rising inequality and falling living standards for
the majority, when six million of those in work are earning less than the
living wage.

It’s
a system in which large numbers of people have lost confidence.

And
it’s not hard to see why. The richest 10 per cent now own 900 times the wealth
of the poorest 10 per cent and in recent years half of the increase in personal
wealth has gone to the top 10 per cent.

I
put it to you this year that a crucial reason for the surprising election
result; the biggest turnaround in polls during an election campaign in British
history, is that Labour went to the country with a vision that offered hope and
change.

Our
manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, set out a fully costed programme to build
an economy which gives everyone the chance of a secure and fulfilling life. 

Since
the General Election in June the political establishment has finally begun to
catch up.

Calls
to end austerity now come from all sides in parliament.

Senior
cabinet members are taking their lead from Labour and pushing for more radical
solutions to the housing and student debt crises.

Sajid
Javid advocates £50 billion of borrowing for investment in housing.

Jeremy
Hunt has broken ranks and called for an end to the public sector pay cap.

Few
would have predicted this a year ago. And of course we’ve yet to see if they’ve
convinced the Chancellor.

It
is a measure of the essential pragmatism of business people that so many have changed their outlook too.

Business people across the country have expressed to me a
growing awareness – and acceptance – that things need to change.

The London Chamber of Commerce recently called for councils to
be allowed to borrow freely to build housing.

We all know an economic model that allows a few to grow very
rich while the majority face falling incomes and rising indebtedness; that
leaves too many people in unfulfilling and insecure work; that is overly
reliant on one sector in one region of our country, is neither stable nor
sustainable.

And in this Living Wage Week, of all weeks, we have to be clear
that Britain needs a pay rise.

When too much of household income is going to pay debts or rent,
that’s less money for consumers to spend on productive businesses. That’s why
Labour backs a Real Living Wage and sensible controls on rents and debts.

Because
it isn’t good for business either.

We
understand that Labour has changed and you have changed.

But
there is one thing that hasn’t changed.

A
year ago, we were just five months on from the referendum vote to leave the
European Union. The Government’s sluggish response to which had already created
unprecedented uncertainty for business.

A
year on, Article 50 has been triggered, Brexit negotiations are underway but
businesses feel no closer to having the clarity about the direction of travel
they desperately need.

Indeed,
watching chaos and confusion grow at the heart of Government and Brexit negotiations
stuck in stalemate, many of you probably feel that the situation is more
uncertain and precarious than ever.

Time
is running out. We know, as you do, that firms are deciding now whether to
continue to invest in the UK, and that guarantees in key areas are needed now
to stop firms from cutting the UK out of their business models.

A
few weeks ago, you joined forces with Britain’s other major business
organisations, the Engineering Employers Federation, the Chamber of Commerce,
the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Business, to ask the
Government to heed the needs of business as they negotiate our exit from the
European Union.

We
agree. We need a Brexit that puts jobs and living standards first and it is
Labour that has common ground with you on putting the needs of the economy
front and centre stage.

We
have common ground on the need for transitional arrangements to be agreed
immediately so that businesses know they won’t face a cliff-edge Brexit when
the two year negotiating period is up.

Because
let me be clear: to delay a transition deal until a final deal is agreed as the
Prime Minister says she wants to do, is simply not good enough.

The
prospect of sudden changes in the legal and regulatory environment in which
people do business is affecting your decisions right now.

And
we have common ground on the threat of “no deal” which, contrary to the claims
of the Secretary of State for International Trade, is potentially a nightmare
scenario. One that involves tariffs on our food imports and our manufacturing
exports, queues at our ports and a hard border in Northern Ireland with all the
dangers that could bring.

The
fact that some in the cabinet want “no deal” to re-launch Britain as a race-to-the-bottom
deregulated tax haven on the shores of Europe only adds to the risks.

And
we agree on the need to signal that the UK remains open to the rest of the
world that Europe is not the “enemy” but our partner in a strong cooperative
relationship for the future.

And
that EU citizens living in the UK are our friends and fellow workers, which is
why the Government should immediately and unilaterally guarantee them full
rights to remain here; in fact they should have done so months ago. And indeed
Labour called for that in July of last year.

Like
you, we have always said that we respect the result of the referendum. Like
you, we have always said that the economy, jobs and living standards should
come first in the negotiations, which means it is crucial that the final deal
maintains the benefits of the common market and the customs union.

I
promise you today between now and March 2019, we will use every opportunity we
can find to put pressure on the Government to do the same.

But,
as Carolyn has so rightly pointed out, we mustn’t use up all our energies on
the Brexit negotiations – there is vital action to be taken at home too.

What
will be determined in the next two years is not just our relationship with the
EU, but the kind of economy – and country – we want to live in.

A
bad Brexit deal risks exacerbating existing weaknesses in our economy – low
investment, low productivity, low pay.

We
will be letting the country down if we don’t seize on this period of change to
tackle those weaknesses at their root causes by working together to give shape
to a new economic model that will create a fairer, richer Britain for all.

I
believe we share a great deal of common ground over how this should be
done.   

Again,
I echo Carolyn; if we are to raise wages and living standards we must solve our
productivity crisis.

And
it is a crisis.

It
continues to take a worker in Britain five days to produce what a worker in
France or Germany produces in four.

If
the OBR decides that our recent dismal productivity performance is not an
aberration but the new normal, and revises down their projections when they
report to Parliament later this month it will take a huge toll on our public
finances – as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out.

It
couldn’t be clearer: our productivity crisis is making our country poorer.

The
answer to our productivity crisis lies in investment, in infrastructure, in new
technologies and in people.

Business
investment is being held back by creaking infrastructure and a shortage of
skilled workers. So Government must act first.

Yet under the Conservatives, crucial infrastructure investment has been delayed –
from rail electrification to the Swansea Tidal Lagoon; the adult skills budget
has been slashed. They even went into the election promising to cut per pupil
schools funding in real terms.

The
Chancellor should use his Autumn Budget to change direction, and invest for
long-term growth.

That
is what Labour has already pledged to do.

With
a National Transformation Fund to upgrade our country’s infrastructure and
reverse years of under-investment in the regions; investing in transport,
energy and digital infrastructure right across the country.

We
will establish a National Investment Bank with a network of regional
development banks that will provide patient finance for firms wanting to adopt
and implement existing innovations and to develop new ones. We are a very
creative country.

And
we’ll build a National Education Service to ensure that, when businesses create
skilled jobs, there are people able to fill them. And when businesses adopt new
technologies, there are employees who know how to use them.

These
policies will help create the conditions businesses need to invest… but they
will only deliver the improvements our economy needs if they are backed up by a
bold industrial strategy.

Again,
this Government is failing to act. We have heard a lot of warm words on
industrial strategy, but we are still waiting to hear how they will take it
forward.

Labour’s
industrial strategy, built on national missions – for energy transition and to
increase R&D spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030 – will lay down the
challenges to business, and provide the foundations on which they can be met.

We
will invest £1.3bn on R&D in our first two years in Government, to
galvanise private investment, set up two new catapult centres for retail and
metals, centres of collaboration and innovation, to drive productivity improvement
and harness the £200bn spent by the public sector each year to boost local
economies and supply chains, to bring prosperity to every region of the
country.

This
is how we deliver properly funded public services in the long run, and ensure
everyone earns enough to live on.

If
we get this right, it is not just our economy that will be stronger, but our
political institutions and our social bonds as well.

We
will, as you know, raise some taxes to pay for it, to ensure that our spending plans
fit within the constraints of our fiscal credibility rule.

But
when we do, we will be clear and open about our tax plans, as we were during
the general election campaign. We won’t do it by stealth.

And
we will seek to improve the functioning of business taxation wherever possible
by uprating business rates in line with CPI instead of RPI, moving to annual
revaluations, and exempting new plant and machinery and by looking at
staggering tax incentives for investment and innovation.

We
will do this because a fair and functional taxation system is the only way to
deliver the investment in infrastructure and skills that are so desperately
needed across the country.

I’m
sure everyone here will agree, providing good infrastructure and education is
what responsible governments do.

And
it’s not just government that has a duty to be responsible, business does too. From ensuring their
suppliers, often small businesses, are paid promptly, to ensuring they pay
their taxes in full too.

The
shocking revelations from the Paradise Papers today, yet again of widespread
tax avoidance and evasion on an industrial scale must lead to decisive action
and real change.

It
is by no means all big businesses but these actions by a few undermine trust in
all businesses.

And
businesses are the victim too, not just reputationally but financially.

Those
businesses that play by the rules and pay the taxes they owe are being undercut
by those who don’t.

The
vital revenues government needs to fund an industrial strategy, good infrastructure
and the world class education system we aspire to; these things can only be
delivered by fair taxation.

So
while we mustn’t tarnish all businesses by the actions of the few, we also have
a duty to come down hard on those who are avoiding the responsibilities and
give HM Revenue & Customs the resources it needs.

As
our Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has set out this morning, we need a full
public inquiry into tax avoidance and evasion, on and offshore,  a
register of companies and trusts, and who benefits from them,  and a new
tax enforcement unit in HMRC and an end to public contracts for companies
abusing the system.

And
we will look at using a withholding tax where individuals or companies are
involved in abusing the system and end public contracts for companies engaged
in abusive tax avoidance.

Please understand the public anger and consternation at
the scale of tax avoidance revealed yet again today. We are talking about tens
of billions that are effectively being leached from our vital public services
by a super-rich elite that holds the taxation system and the rest of us in
contempt. We must take action now to put an end to this socially damaging and
extortionately costly scandal.

And
there’s another area where we have we all have a duty to act – and act now.

Faced
with the ongoing revelations about sexual harassment we should make this a
turning point and a moment of real change. We must no longer allow anyone to be
abused in the workplace.

Such
abuse, sexism and misogyny is, sadly, very far from being confined to Hollywood
and the corridors of power, but is also widespread in our schools and
universities, in our businesses and workplaces, in our newspapers and on our TV
screens. It is all around us.

That
must change and business has an essential role to play. All of you need to look
hard at yourselves, as we in the Labour Party are doing ourselves, to see how
your processes and procedures can be improved. How it can be made easier for
women to speak out and for victims to get the support they have a right to
expect.

Businesses
can have a vital partner in rooting out injustice in the workplace – trade
unions. They are crucial to taking on and rooting out sexual harassment and
discrimination. And I would encourage each and every business serious about
improving your workplace culture and tackling sexual discrimination at work to
engage with trade unions.

Governments
also have other responsibilities – enforcing a fair and transparent regulatory
framework so that, for example, businesses aren’t destroyed by the likes of RBS
abusing their power, providing for the health of our citizens and, yes, in some
cases, running essential public utilities.

Because
every one of you in this room who knows what goes into seeing an idea brought
to market or what it takes to survive the cut and thrust of consumer choice
month to month, knows that privatised monopoly utilities are not real markets.
Where’s the pressure for efficiency and innovation if consumers cannot go
elsewhere when they are dissatisfied?

I
know some of you disagree and think that bringing some parts of the economy
into public ownership won’t be good for the reputation of business, but it’s
not good for the image of business when water companies pay out billions in
dividend and interest payments through opaque financial arrangements, while
households see their bills go up to pay for it.

It’s
not good for business people if their employees have to spend huge amounts of
time and money getting to and from work each day on expensive and unreliable
services.

It
is not good for manufacturers to have among the most expensive energy in
Europe, or see energy transition held back because the necessary investments to
transform our energy grid are not being made.

And,
just as it wouldn’t be good for business to be locked into inefficient funding
arrangements that don’t provide finance on the best terms available, or
inflexible contracts that don’t adapt to your needs, nor is it good for the
public.

That’s
why we will end the Private Finance Initiative – because PFI contracts have
over-charged the public to the tune of billions.

You
wouldn’t put up with it and neither will we.

But
we won’t let ending PFI hold up vital infrastructure investment. We’ll end it
to make sure that investment happens in a way that gives best value for money
for the public, and in a way that better meets user needs.

This
isn’t about being anti-business, anti-enterprise, or about closing ourselves
off to the rest of the world.

It
is about deciding to attract business from across the world by creating
world-class infrastructure that is efficiently funded, cheap and reliable
energy, safe and efficient water and transport systems and a skilled and
educated population.

Not
by allowing a select few to make monopoly profits from our essential utilities. 

This
isn’t a throwback to a bygone era; it’s entirely in step with what is happening
in the rest of the world. Some of the world’s biggest economies – Germany,
France, even the United States are deciding that key sectors such as energy and
water are better off in public ownership. It’s time for Britain to catch up.

Building
an economy for the many will mean making some big changes.

But
it will also mean an economy that is stronger, fairer and more stable and
business people know more than anyone how important that is.

Common
ground on Brexit, common ground on investment, training and industrial strategy
and a government that embraces its responsibilities and carries them out for
the common good.

That’s
what Labour offers you. That’s what Labour offers Britain.

Thank
you.

Ends