Rachel Reeves speech at Labour conference
Speech by Rachel Reeves MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Exhibition Centre Liverpool
It is a privilege to stand here, as your Shadow Chancellor.
Today, I make this commitment to you, and to the country:
Out of the wreckage of Tory misrule, Labour will restore our economic stability;
We will lift living standards.
Make work pay.
Rebuild our public services.
Invest in homegrown industries in every corner of our country.
And together, we will get Britain its future back.
This is a momentous week.
For too long, we have gathered in these halls with the power to talk, but not the power to do.
Thirteen years of opposition to remind us of that eternal political truth:
That it is only through power that we can put our principles into action.
Under Keir Starmer’s leadership, that opportunity is at last within our grasp.
But only if we allow no complacency.
Only if we fight for every single vote.
Only if we work, every day to show we are the party with the discipline, with the determination and with the vision to rebuild Britain.
Labour’s task is to restore hope to our politics.
The hope that lets us face the future with confidence.
With a new era of economic security.
Because there is no hope without security.
You cannot dream big if you cannot sleep in peace at night.
The peace that comes from knowing you have enough to put aside for a rainy day.
And the knowledge that, when you need them, strong public services will be there for you and your family.
The strength that allows a society to withstand global shocks.
Because it is from those strong foundations of security, that hope can spring.
Conference, the choice at the next election is this:
Five more years of the Tory chaos and uncertainty, which has left working people worse off or a changed Labour Party offering stability, investment and economic security, so working people are better off.
It falls to us to show that Labour is ready to serve, ready to lead and ready to rebuild Britain.
In chess you learn to think several moves ahead.
But even I couldn’t have predicted the mayhem we have seen, week after week, year after year, from this Conservative government.
Then Brexit without a plan.
And then their kamikaze budget.
Growth – weak.
Wages – flat.
Taxes – up.
The price of energy – up.
The price of the family food shop – up.
And mortgage bills, up hundreds of pounds every single month.
Never forget – this time last year, in their clamour to cut taxes for those at the top, the Conservatives caused market chaos, crashed the economy, and left working people to pay the price.
That is why you cannot trust the Tories with our economy ever again.
What did we see from the Tories last week in Manchester?
A government bereft of ambition for Britain.
So ready for opposition, that they are behaving like they are already there.
Looking inwards, not out to the country.
Queueing to cheer the extremists rather than kicking them out of their party.
And telling us what we already know:
Liz Truss might be out of Downing Street but she is still leading the Conservative Party.
The one sensible thing they came up with was their phased smoking ban, which we support.
However, I do fear for the Conservative Party.
With such a shortage of fag packets, what on earth are they going to write their next policy on?
And what about the Prime Minister?
Rishi Sunak had the chance to denounce the politics and policies of Liz Truss.
To make clear that he would never repeat her mistakes.
But he didn’t.
If he’s too weak to stand up to them one year in – what chance do you give him five years in?
Be in no doubt: the biggest risk to Britain’s economy is five more years of the Conservative Party.
In contrast, Labour’s defining economic mission is to restore growth to Britain.
But it is no use simply claiming we want economic growth without new ideas for how we can achieve it.
That starts with understanding the world as it is today.
A world that has been reshaped by new technologies, by the pandemic by war, by great power rivalries and by the climate crisis.
In short: globalisation, as we once knew it, is dead.
Disruption to supply chains that span the globe has revealed the perils of prizing only the fastest and the cheapest.
And our ability to make the things essential to our national security has been depleted.
Great gaps have been allowed to open up between different parts of the country.
And we have, time and time again, been buffeted by global forces.
In this new age of insecurity, it is no longer enough – if it ever was – for government to turn a blind eye to where things are made and who is making them.
To run an economy based only on the contribution of only a few people, a few industries, and a few parts of the country.
A changed world demands a new business model for Britain.
It is an approach that I call ‘securonomics’.
That means government putting economic security first.
Security for family finances.
And security for our national economy.
It means we must rebuild our ability to do, make and sell here in Britain so we are less exposed to global shocks.
Governments around the world have come to understand, as our government cannot, that wealth does not trickle down from a few at the top, but rests on the contribution of the many.
On the skill and dedication of those who work in our everyday economy:
Careworkers, postal workers, supermarket workers and on entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists.
Growth from the bottom up and the middle out.
An economy rebuilt in the interests of working people.
Because from security, comes hope.
Labour will commit itself to rebuilding that security.
To restoring that hope.
Labour is ready to serve.
Ready to lead.
Ready to rebuild Britain.
Conference, I do not underestimate the scale of the task ahead of us, nor the problems we would inherit in government.
They demand hard work, determination, and tough decisions.
The exhaustion of Conservative ideas does not give us the freedom to push through programmes detached from our present economic reality.
Or to take for granted the people we seek to represent.
Change will be achieved only on the basis of iron discipline.
Working people rightly expect nothing less.
Because when you play fast and loose with public finances, you put at risk family finances.
When the prices of food and energy and housing soar, it is working people who pay that price.
Like the mum I met in Scarborough earlier this year.
A mental health nurse, who had moved back home with her mum for five years with her young family, to save for a deposit to buy a home of her own.
Only to find, when she was about to fulfil that dream, after all that sacrifice, that the mortgage costs she would face had outstripped her income.
And she had no way of meeting them.
This is one of thousands upon thousands of similar stories.
Stories I hear wherever I go.
Of people who have worked hard, done all the right things;
But whose dreams have been dashed by the choices of this Conservative government.
People who we must not, and will not, let down.
So, a Labour government will not waiver from iron-clad fiscal rules;
Nor play the Tory game of undermining our economic institutions.
The last Labour government granted operational independence to the Bank of England.
I started my career as an economist at the Bank, and I saw the lasting contribution that made to Britain’s economic success first hand.
So, we will protect the independence of the Bank, the Office for Budget Responsibility and our civil service.
And, as Chancellor, I will put forward a new Charter for Budget Responsibility, a new fiscal lock.
Guaranteeing in law that any government making significant and permanent tax and spending changes will be subject to an independent forecast from the OBR.
Never again will we allow a repeat of the devastation Liz Truss and the Tory Party have inflicted on family finances.
Never again will a Prime Minister or Chancellor be allowed to rush through plans that are uncosted, unscrutinised, and wholly detached from economic reality.
But let me address directly those who say that to make hard choices is to make the same choices as the Tory party.
To them I say:
Economic responsibility does not detract from advances for working people.
It is the foundation upon which progress is built.
Hard choices, but Labour choices.
The choice to back our high streets and small businesses by requiring online tech giants to pay their fair share.
The choice to levy a proper windfall tax on the huge profits the energy giants are making, so that working people do not bear the brunt of a crisis they did not create.
The choice to abolish the non-dom tax status and put that money into our national health service.
Because conference, if you make your home in Britain, then you should pay your taxes here too. And with Labour, you will.
And another choice.
In my first budget as Chancellor I will end the tax loophole which exempts private schools from VAT and business rates and we will put that money into helping the 93% of children in our state schools.
And if Rishi Sunak wants a fight over this.
If the party that has herded children into portacabins while school roofs crumble, wants a fight about who has the most aspiration for our children then I say: Bring. It. On.
We are ready to serve.
Ready to lead.
Read to rebuild Britain.
I didn’t come into politics to raise taxes on working people.
Indeed, I want them to be lower.
But the Tories have piled twenty-five tax rises on the shoulders of working people and businesses, while allowing the wealthiest to avoid taxes, keeping loopholes open, and letting government waste spiral.
Taxpayers’ money should be spent with the same care with which we spend our own money.
I remember my mum would sit at the kitchen table, with her bank statements and her receipts.
We weren’t badly off, but we didn’t have money to spare.
To my mum, every penny mattered.
I learned that same lesson at the Bank of England:
Responsibility must always come first.
But for too long, Tory governments have allowed money to be wasted and taxpayers defrauded.
So, Labour will wage a war against fraud, waste and inefficiency.
Today I can announce three further fronts in Labour’s war on waste.
First, we will crack down on Tory ministers’ private jet habit.
What is Rishi Sunak so scared of up there in his private jet?
Meeting a voter?
We will enforce the ministerial code on the use of private planes and save millions of pounds for taxpayers in the process.
Second, we will slash government consultancy spending, which has almost quadrupled in just six years.
Consultants can play an important role, but taxpayers must get value for money.
So, we will introduce tough new rules.
If a government department wants to bring in consultants, they must demonstrate the value for money case.
And if they cannot, then that request will be denied.
We will aim to cut consultancy spending in half over the next Parliament.
And third, we will go after those who profited from the carnival of waste during the pandemic.
Today, the cost to the taxpayer of covid fraud is estimated at £7.2 billion.
With every single one of those cheques signed by Rishi Sunak as Chancellor.
And yet just 2% of all fraudulent covid grants have been recovered.
So, I can announce today that we will appoint a Covid Corruption Commissioner.
Supported by a hit squad of investigators, equipped with the powers they need and the mandate to do whatever it takes.
To chase down those who have ripped off the taxpayer, take them to court, and claw back every penny of taxpayer’s money that they can.
That money belongs in our NHS.
It belongs in our schools.
It belongs in our police.
And conference, we want our money back.
We are ready to serve.
We are ready to lead.
We are ready to rebuild Britain.
Labour will tax fairly and spend wisely.
But conference, I must tell you:
You cannot tax and spend your way to growth.
The lifeblood of a growing economy is business investment.
It is investment that allows businesses to expand, create jobs, and compete with international rivals, with new plants, factories and research labs coming to Britain – not Germany, France or America.
But today, we lag well behind our peers for private sector investment as a share of GDP, with tens of billions of pounds less spent on new machinery and infrastructure.
Is that because British people aren’t as hard-working?
Or as creative?
Or as enterprising?
British businesses – from life sciences to the creative industries, from digital to financial services – can and do lead the world.
But they have been held back by the chaos and instability of this government.
So Labour will aim to restore investment as a share of GDP to the level it was under the last Labour government, to bring us in line with our peers.
Adding an additional £50 billion to our GDP every single year.
Worth £1,700 for every household in Britain.
But we know too that asking business to do all the heavy lifting, while government steps back, is not an option.
As our competitors understand, there is a role for government in encouraging and de-risking investment in new and growing industries.
So, we will provide catalytic investment through a new National Wealth Fund.
Financial responsibility means knowing when not to spend.
But it also means making sure that when you invest, you get bang for your buck.
So we will set that new National Wealth Fund a target:
For every pound of investment we put in, we will leverage in three times as much private investment.
And conference, be in no doubt:
No matter what political games the Tories are willing to play over our energy transition.
No matter how willing they are to ignore the warnings of businesses, investors and trade unions.
No matter how many times they put short-term political calculation over the security and prosperity of the British people;
Labour will make the long-term decision – and invest in British industry;
Driving down bills and creating new jobs;
Jobs for plumbers, builders and electricians;
Jobs for scientists, designers and engineers;
In green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, in Grangemouth, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Hull;
In steel in Sheffield, Scunthorpe and Port Talbot;
In offshore wind in Fife, Plymouth and Newport;
Making electric car batteries in Coventry, Sunderland and Blyth.
And jobs retrofitting homes in Keighley, Rochester, Warrington, and in every village, every town and every city across our country.
Ready to serve.
Ready to lead.
Ready to rebuild Britain.
If we want to spur investment, restore economic security, and revive growth, then we must get Britain building again.
The Tories would have you believe we can’t build anything in Britain anymore.
In fact, the single biggest obstacle to building infrastructure, to investment and to growth in this country is the Conservative Party itself.
Just look at the fate of HS2.
A major transport project lost, another promise broken;
Because the government could not keep costs under control.
By the time the government even recognised they had a problem, the project was already £30 billion over budget.
The question must be:
How was it ever allowed to get to that point?
If I were in the Treasury, I would have been on the phone to the Chief Executive of HS2 non-stop;
Demanding answers – and solutions – on behalf of taxpayers, businesses, and commuters.
But with this government, it has become a pattern.
When it comes to getting things built and projects delivered, Britain has become the sick man of Europe;
With HS2 coming in at ten times the cost of the French equivalent.
And that is why our Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh will commission an independent expert inquiry into HS2 to learn lessons for the future.
Because many more major government capital projects running over time, over budget and in danger of going undelivered.
It is incumbent on government to make sure major projects are delivered on time and on budget.
I will not tolerate taxpayers’ money being treated with the disrespect we have seen over recent years.
I will not turn a blind eye to dither, delay and incompetence.
I will hold those responsible to account.
And I will demand action when they are not delivering value for money.
So I have tasked Darren Jones, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury;
To work closely with industry experts;
And to examine, line by line, every ongoing major capital project;
To make sure that, on day one of a Labour government, we are ready to get Britain building again.
If the Tories won’t build;
If the Tories can’t build;
Then we will.
We will take on our antiquated planning system.
Since 2012, decision times for national infrastructure have increased by 65%, now taking four years.
With Labour, that will change.
So today I am announcing our plans to get Britain building.
A once in a generation set of reforms, to accelerate the building of critical infrastructure for energy, transport and housing.
To fast-track battery factories, life sciences and 5G infrastructure – the things we need to succeed in the decades to come.
And to tackle the litigation which devours time and money before we even see shovels in the ground.
And to make sure that when a local community hosts national infrastructure, they will feel the benefits;
Including through lower energy bills.
Conference, it is time we had a government that matched the ambition that people have for their families and communities.
A government siding with the builders not the blockers.
A government that will get Britain building again.
And with Labour we will.
Let me give you one example:
Our energy grid.
Today, new developments are being forced to wait up to 15 years – until the late 2030s – to connect to the grid.
£200bn worth of projects stuck in limbo.
So today, working closely with Ed Miliband, I can announce Labour’s plans to rewire Britain:
Securing the supply chain we need for lower bills.
And to build faster and cheaper, opening up new grid construction to competitive tendering.
And because the British people should own a stake in their energy system, the publicly owned Great British Energy will look to bid into that competition.
220,000 new jobs.
Lower bills, for good.
And energy security for Britain.
And there is more.
We will invest in expanding local authorities’ planning capacity, to speed up decisions.
And here is how we will pay for it:
Rocketing interest rates have dealt a hammer blow to the dream of millions of people who want to own their own home, when already that dream was far too remote for far too many people.
It is not right that, while so many people are struggling, many homes are bought by overseas buyers, who may own a property but leave it vacant;
Driving up prices, while families and young people are desperate to get onto the housing ladder.
So because, one year ago, Keir Starmer set out the ambition for the next Labour government to make 70 percent of British households homeowners;
Because a house should be a home not an asset;
And because, conference, it is time we built the homes our young people need;
We will raise the stamp duty surcharge on overseas buyers to get Britain building.
Labour is the party of builders not blockers;
Labour is the party of economic growth;
And it is now beyond doubt:
It is Labour that is the party of homeownership.
Working people need the skills to succeed in the modern economy and the security to utilise them.
From security, hope.
The parents struggling to balance caring responsibilities and work;
The key worker struggling to pay the rent;
The would-be entrepreneur struggling to access the finance to turn brilliant ideas into commercial reality;
A productive economy cannot be built on such fragile foundations.
Because there is now a mountain of economic evidence;
That higher wages and greater job security have real benefits for business.
And there is also a mountain of human evidence:
Of too many children growing up in poverty;
Too many parents skipping meals;
Too many people waiting by the phone to find out whether they’ve got work that day or not.
So, as Angela Rayner set out yesterday;
The next Labour government will offer a new deal for working people:
Zero hour contracts, banned;
Fire and rehire, gone;
Sick pay, strengthened;
And basic rights from day one.
It was the last Labour government which finally delivered on the promise of Keir Hardie to implement a national minimum wage.
The fight against poverty pay has been at the heart of our movement from the beginning.
And so the next Labour government will go further:
Not a rebrand of the minimum wage, like the Tories;
A minimum wage taking account of the real cost of living and finally we will have a genuine living wage.
The post of Chancellor of the Exchequer has existed for eight hundred years.
In that time – not one single woman has held that post.
Conference, when we next meet, I intend to address this hall as Britain’s first female Chancellor of the Exchequer.
To do so would be the privilege of my lifetime.
But more important than that, it would come with a great weight of responsibility.
The responsibility to show our daughters – to show my daughter – that they should not place any limits on their ambitions.
And the responsibility too, like Labour women before, to drive progress for women.
Still, half a century after the Equal Pay Act, women in Britain earn on average 15% less than men.
On current trends it may take until 2044 for that gap to disappear.
Women cannot afford to wait that long.
And nor should we have to.
The work of women has been undervalued for too long.
That is why I have asked Frances O’Grady to examine how we can go further and faster so that the next Labour government makes the next great strides towards ending the gender pay gap once and for all.
Ready to serve.
Ready to lead.
And ready to rebuild Britain.
We have changed this party so that we may have the chance to change our country.
Labour will fight this next election on the economy.
Every day we will expose what the Conservatives have done to our country.
Because the questions people should ask themselves ahead of the next election are simple:
Do you and your family feel better off than you did thirteen years ago?
Do our hospitals, our schools and our police work better than thirteen years ago?
Frankly, is there anything in Britain that works better than when the Conservatives came into office thirteen years ago?
If you do feel Britain is better off after thirteen years;
If you think our country is as good as it can be;
If, after all this, you want to leave your future, your children’s future, our country’s future in the hands of the Conservative Party;
Then I may not be able to persuade you.
But if, like me, you think Britain can do better;
That Britain can be better off;
If you, like me, believe that it is time to put security first and reject the risk of five more years of chaos and decline, then join us.
Join us in our mission to rebuild Britain.
Join us in our mission to give Britain its future back.
Creating new jobs;
Driving down bills;
Reviving our high streets.
Rescuing our public services;
More teachers in our schools;
More police on our streets;
More doctors and nurses in our hospitals.
Lifting families from poverty.
Achieving energy security.
And bringing growth back to Britain.
We are here:
Ready to serve.
Ready to lead.
And together, we can – and we will – rebuild Britain.