Response to the British Chamber of Commerce Open Letter
Chuka Umunna MP
Shadow Business Secretary
Thank you for your open letter to the political parties laying out the policy agenda you would like to see, including more devolved decision-making, public spending based on prudence and long-term stability, support for businesses to export and greater efforts to bridge the gap between education and work. There is much common ground between us and what we would like to achieve.
Working closely with business
We have worked very closely with businesses of all sectors and sizes and a huge variety of business organisations across the country, including the Chambers of Commerce, in formulating our policy offer. It is probably the biggest engagement process a party has undertaken with many reviews led by or involving a wide range of business leaders and other experts.
We are very grateful for the Chambers’ input into many of these areas, for example helping to lead a series of meetings with your members in Chambers across the country on our plans for a British Investment Bank to improve finance for businesses. I was very pleased to be able to lead a Trade Mission with the London Chamber and NWUTKI to West Africa to champion British business abroad, and I’m also grateful that the BCC is involved in the Cole Review into how we can boost exports.
Better Plan for Britain’s Prosperity
We have recently launched our plan for prosperity which outlines measures we would put in place if elected to government. This is found here: http://www.labour.org.uk/prosperity‑document and is summarised later on in this letter.
British Chambers of Commerce Conference
Last week I, and the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, spoke at the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference. My full speech can be found here: http://press.labour.org.uk/post/110628427619/speech-by-chuka-umunna-to-british-chambers-of Ed’s full speech can be found here: http://press.labour.org.uk/post/110623972914/speech-by-ed-balls-to-british-chambers-of-commerce
Both of these speeches put forward our policy agenda, our work with the Chambers and what we will do if elected to government. In summary:
Better balanced growth
We outlined the potential our nation can achieve with the structural reforms that are needed to generate better balanced, more inclusive and enduring growth. Our Achilles’ heel remains productivity where we need a relentless focus if we are to balance the books and raise living standards year-on-year.
Competitive tax system
We set out our plan for a tax policy system which supports growth and investment with our goal of keeping Britain as the country with the most competitive corporation tax rate in the G7. Because of the pressure from high and rising business rates, we do not think that a further cut in the corporation tax rate is the first priority this April, so we will instead cut and then freeze business rates for 1.5 million small business properties.
We will cut the deficit every year, getting the current budget into surplus and the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament and we will have to make difficult decisions and spending cuts. Like every successful business we are examining every pound spent from the bottom-up through our Zero-Based Review to root out waste and inefficiencies.
We outlined the need to address skills shortages that hold businesses back, especially technical and vocational skills. The academic pathway through school to university is clear. Now we need the same clarity for vocational skills, starting with a new, gold standard, vocational qualification - the Tech Bacc. We also introduce new Technical Degrees, as well as drive a big expansion of apprenticeships, based on quality not simply the numbers game as it has become for this Government. Currently, almost four in 10 of the employers the Government counts as providing apprenticeships do not think they do so.
We outlined our approach to give local areas more control, with £30 billion of funding over five years devolved to city and county regions. We will ensure that Local Enterprise Partnerships have a clear purpose, and the capabilities, budgets and powers to deliver.
Long term view
Our plans will overcome the short-termism of government and the pressures on business to take the short-term view. We will make sure businesses have the infrastructure we need to succeed with an independent National Infrastructure Commission to stop long-term decisions being delayed.
Exports and looking outward to the world
This Government has wished for exports to double to £1 trillion by 2020 but progress has not been sufficient during this parliament for this target to be realistically met. It does not help that there are export finance schemes that no one uses, and threatening exit from the EU - our largest export market and gateway to the world - is actively damaging and diminishing Britain’s clout in Europe and the world. It would be disastrous for British business if we left.
Graham Cole, the Chairman of AgustaWestland is leading a review on how to create the world class service which firms need to export. As a nation we have many advantages to draw on - the ties of language, culture and history; the links of our Diaspora communities and ex-pats; and strong connections with cities around the world. But we need to learn from the best examples around the world, and bring it all together.
Chuka Umunna MP
Shadow Business Secretary