Keir Starmer speech at Labour’s Business Conference

Thank you Con and thanks to Bloomberg for sponsoring this event.

It’s really great to be here and thank you all for coming, being here in this hall with us, and what an impressive room this is. A testament, I think, to the changes we’ve made over the last four years. 

I mean – just for a moment if you’ll indulge me – I’d like you all to cast your mind back to 2019.

Let’s imagine that you were invited to an event like this, a Labour business conference, before any of the changes to our party had taken place.

The question is – would you go?

Would you – as a wealth creator feel that your ambition, the vital role you play in our economy, commanded the respect it deserves?

Now – don’t worry they’re called rhetorical questions for a reason. And this isn’t an audience participation event, I’m looking around the room, put your glitter away.

But doesn’t that thought show the scale of the journey that we’ve been on? The depth of the changes we’ve made to transform the Labour Party’s relationship with business. 

It’s something that I take immense pride in. This has always been one of the key tasks in my project to return Labour to the service of working people.

Because we know that in the real world, working people want success as well as support.

They want a government capable of matching their aspirations. Understand, completely – that private enterprise is how we pay our way in the world.

So, all the hard-work that has taken us to this point. It’s vindication. A recognition of that guiding belief.

Not just that Labour could be the party of business, that Labour should be the party of business. And that now also, four years on, Labour is the party of business.

But this project has to be more ambitious than changing the culture of my party.

You’ve have heard me say many, many times over the past four years, I want a partnership with business. But that word ‘partnership’ has to express more than just a good relationship. Frankly, that should be par for the course.

So look, everything we do is driven by a determination to provide the businesses, communities, and people of this nation with the conditions to succeed.

To set a direction, five national missions the whole country can get behind and then bring people together to achieve them.

That is the job of government as I see it. An understanding that we serve the country, while you drive it forward.

This is what national renewal means. And I know you stand ready to join us.

I also know that the caricature that British business only serves the shareholder interest is lazy and out of date.

In fact, one of the things I draw great hope from is the determination I see, from the countless business leaders I’ve met, to serve the national interest.

A pride – not just in the contribution you already make, but what else you could achieve if you had a government that matched your ambition.

That’s why, as we’ve drawn up our plans for Britain. We haven’t just opened our doors, we’ve taken decisions together as equal partners in the venture of national renewal. Your fingerprints – on every one of our five missions.

But nonetheless, for this partnership to endure it’s not enough just to see the country and it’s challenges through the same eyes. We have to start getting things done. And that will mean new expectations on your business.

Because, if we want a Britain where every worker enjoys dignity at work, if we want a country that invests in its infrastructure and its people, if we want a Britain where wealth creation comes from every community, then that can’t come from a change of government alone. We all have to change – business included.

So, look – this is what this document we’re launching today represents: a Labour plan for business. A partnership for growth. With a clearly defined and measurable goal, the mission: that we can achieve the highest sustained growth in the G7. 

A target we set out not because it is easy – I think we can dispense with that accusation – but precisely because it is hard. And because we want everyone involved to understand the destination.

And look – we actively want our progress to be tracked, we embrace the harsh light of accountability.

That is how you learn and adapt when faced with a long-term challenge.

It’s also a plan that comes with a clear purpose because we aren’t agnostic about the sort of growth we want.

Our mission commits us to raising the living standards of working people in every community.

And that means we’ll have to do the hard yards, roll up our sleeves, get underneath the bonnet and fix an unprecedented stagnation in British productivity.

Seriously – I don’t think you can overstate what the British people have been through in the last 14 years. It’s not just the permanent cycle of crisis, there is something much more fundamentally broken in the way this country creates wealth.

I mean – a decade of lost wage growth, halfway down the road to another one. An economy with weak foundations that, even in the calmer moments, can’t provide the security working people need to look forward. 

Something which doesn’t just hold back our potential but also rips up the contract – the values that keep a country together – a sense that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will have a chance in Britain. The future will be better for your children.

That’s why we need nothing less than a decade of national renewal. Each one of those three words is important.

Decade – because, frankly, that’s how long it may take.

National – because we will need the contribution of every citizen in this country.

And renewal, because this can’t be done with a few fixes, a policy tweak here and there, we need to go beyond sticking plasters, find the long-term cure that will allow us to face the future.

That’s why today we launch this new plan, this new purpose, this new partnership, with five priorities we can unite behind. 

Five steps we can take together to begin our walk towards a Britain with its future back.

Step one – we’ll get Britain building again.

We’ll take on the blockers that hold a veto over British aspiration, rip out the red tape in our planning system that stops you building the future Britain needs. 

Take the tough decisions that will get the infrastructure you need – the warehouses, grid connections, roads, tunnels, labs – built more quickly and at a better price.

We will also build 1.5 million new homes for your workers. 

And with that – a rich prize for your business. A path to a stronger skills base, a happier workforce, more dynamism, more demand, more growth.

Step two – we’ll kickstart a skills revolution.

Because a future must be trained as well as built.

Now, you told us the system doesn’t work, that there’s not enough coordination, too much chasing the ball, nobody thinking about the skills we need tomorrow. And we’ve listened.

That’s why we’ll set up a new national body – Skills England.

You told us the Apprenticeship Levy is too inflexible, won’t let you train up your own workforce in the way you need. And we’ve listened.

That’s why we’ll create a more flexible Growth and Skills levy instead.

But as with any partnership – there is also a challenge.

Because for years I’ve heard businesses complain about the skills system. About the quality of the courses at their local colleges.

So we are giving you the tools to do something about it. That’s what our Technical Excellence Colleges will be about.

So I say, in all seriousness, get into them, help design the courses, drive up the standards. And in doing so, help ground our education system more firmly, not just in young peoples’ aspirations, not just in the needs of your business, but also in the pride, the pull of the badge on the shirt, the ambition you feel, when building a lasting legacy for your own community.

Step three – we’ll make work pay.

Zero hour contracts – scrapped. Fire and rehire – finished. A genuine living wage.

I want to be crystal clear about this, we are going to level-up workers’ rights in a way that has not been attempted for decades.

And that might not please everyone in the room or the wider business community.

But nobody can doubt that our labour market is at the heart of our challenges on productivity, a clear reason why the wealth we create fails to generate economic security.

That’s not just an argument about social justice, it’s also about growth.

Because the growth we need cannot come from driving down the terms and conditions of the British people, that is not a pathway to sustained productivity improvement.

In fact, if anything, it distorts our economy with perverse incentives on things like investment in technology.

I accept this may be a challenge for some businesses.

But we will work with you at every stage of rolling our reforms out and we will back you with a different deal.

We will cut NHS waiting lists to make your workforce healthier, we will put a plan in place to make it more highly skilled, we will provide better mental health access, more affordable housing, this is a different model. Pro-worker and pro-business.  

Step four – we’ll back you with the tools to transform the role of investment in our economy.

A new industrial strategy that can maximise our distinctive strengths: life sciences, digital technology, financial services, the creative industries, car manufacturing, clean power.

A new national wealth fund – ready to work hand in glove with you to rebuild our country, with public investment crowding-in many multiples of private investment, sharing both risk and reward by giving the British people a stake.

And finally step five – in some ways the most important step of all, the foundation it all rests upon – a commitment to always put economic stability first.

Now – Rachel (Reeves) spelt this out so clearly this morning. We cannot and we will not allow public spending needs – however important – to threaten the stability of our finances. 

We have seen where that leads under this government, with total clarity, it is the definition of a false economy and working people pay the price.

But stability – as you have told us time and again, is not just an exercise in damage control, it’s also an opportunity.

I go back to what I said a few moments ago, our job is to provide you with the conditions to succeed and when you invest in your business, you invest in this country.

So, we want a competitive tax regime for business investment, that’s why we’ve backed permanent full expensing.

But we also know that this regime needs to be stable.

In this Parliament alone, we’ve had a new headline corporation tax in 2021. In 2022 – twice. And then in 2023, yet more changes to the regime with the end of the super-deduction.

In fact – all told, there have been 26 changes to corporation tax since 2019. 

I think that’s more changes than Chancellors – though it’s hard to keep up.

Honestly – I was in one meeting with leading CEOs this week and people were competing to see which sector had been through the most ministers.

But in all seriousness, you know this chaos has a cost, you know that instability has a chilling effect on business investment. 

Time and again, you tell me it’s the chopping and changing, the sticking plaster politics, the growing concern that our government will rip up its international commitments – that’s holding back investment in our country.

So that is why we’ve committed today to a stable corporation tax rate – no changes.

So, for the whole of the next Parliament, with Labour, you will know exactly the return on your investment in this country.

Because at the end of the day, when the big questions that echo round rooms like this are raised: where does our money go? Where do our jobs go? Where does our investment in a better future go?

I want the answer that comes back to be a resounding: ‘why not Britain?’

A country building again, growing again, believing again, that hard work will be rewarded, aspiration will be backed, working people can be successful, because we have a long-term plan to get Britain’s future back.

A partnership for growth. British business – driving our country forward.

With a Labour Party on your side. Walking, together with you towards a decade of national renewal.

Thank you very much.