Responding to Ed Miliband's keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:
“At this conference, Labour has repositioned itself positively in respect of its business and economic credentials. However, Ed Miliband’s speech did not really focus on the economy and wealth creation as much as we had hoped. It is slightly problematic that some elements of his speech are likely to be seen as short-term political expediency, and could create uncertainty for business which runs counter to the need for long-term strategic vision and investment. Ultimately, businesses will judge politicians not on what they promise, but on what they deliver. We will wait to hear from other parties in the next few weeks on how they will address instrumental business issues and the wider economy.”
“It is encouraging to hear Labour’s emphasis on increasing the number of apprenticeships and technical degrees. Although we are less convinced that you can set a meaningful target for the share of people enrolled in these programmes, we agree that more must be done to make practical pathways available. In a knowledge-based economy education, training and skills at all levels are as important to the infrastructure of the nation as our roads, railways and airports.”
“Businesses will welcome Ed Miliband’s decision to get behind the BCC’s call for a national housing drive. Over many decades we have seen time and again how Britain’s failure to deliver the number of new homes we so desperately need has undermined our economic stability.
“However, without further details on how this target will be delivered, British businesses can be forgiven for a sense of déjà vu. We have seen housing targets in the past, including under the previous Labour government, which have failed to deliver tangible results.”
On the NHS:
“We believe that growth in funding for the NHS must go hand-in-hand with a continued drive for cost efficiencies. This has to include making procurement work better both for the NHS and for the wider economy. As the largest purchaser of goods and services in the UK, the NHS can and should play an important role in supporting the growth of small businesses.”
“We can all agree that we want to see a wealthy and prosperous UK, but a high wage economy goes hand-in-hand with a high-value, high-productivity economy. Rather than introducing new wage legislation, which could have perverse results, politicians should focus on incentivising private investment and improving skills in the workplace. Together with public sector investment and infrastructure development, this is the route to higher productivity in the UK.
“There is no doubt that the widening pay gap and a lack of social mobility is detrimental to the UK economy. As the economy continues to improve, businesses agree that the minimum wage must rise. However, we are calling for all political parties to reaffirm their commitment to the evidence-based approach currently exemplified by the Low Pay Commission. Where there are existing mechanisms in place, politicians should avoid the temptation to override these.”
On ‘green industry’ jobs:
“While we agree with Ed Miliband that the ‘green industry’ has an important role to play in the economy, businesses in all sectors need to see a comprehensive, cross-party vision of the UK’s energy future to invest and create jobs. Increasing energy costs, and the failure of previous governments to take energy security seriously, are major concerns for business.
“We are calling on the next government to develop and implement a 50-year UK energy security strategy that reduces energy dependency by maximising all sources available, including shale, and ensuring that energy is used more efficiently. While the green industry should play an important role in this strategy, we disagree that the UK should adopt unilateral measures on climate change that increase the cost of energy for businesses.”
“Unless there is market failure, politicians should not intervene in the markets. While we believe there should be more competition in banking, there are existing mechanisms for reviewing competition and market failure.”