Political parties make their pitch to business - skills, climate crisis and Brexit at the fore

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez November 18, 2019
The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are set to address address the Confederation of British Industry conference today in London.

Image of Corbyn and Johnson

British business is set to hear from the leaders of the UK’s largest political parties today, about their plans for the future of business and industry. 

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson are set to address business leaders at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London today, ahead of a general election on 12th December. 

Whilst the party leaders’ speeches aren’t specifically focused on technology, many of the themes being addressed play into topics of importance for the industry, including skills, immigration, the climate crisis and Brexit. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be prioritising a government review of business rates, with the aim of reducing the “overall burden” of the tax. In addition to this the Conservatives are promising to raise the Employment Allowance from £3,000 to £4,000 and increase R&D tax credit rate from 12 per cent to 13 per cent. 

On the latter point, investment in R&D is a core topic of interest to those involved in the tech industry. The Tories hope that they can boost private sector research and development in order to raise productivity over the medium and long-term. The Prime Minister claims that raising the relief rate from 12 per cent to 13 per cent will boost the “scientific and technical services sector in particular”. 

However, in his speech to the conference later today, Boris Johnson will go hard on his plans for Brexit, stating that whilst it’s not something business wants, he will argue that it’s only the Conservatives that can deliver certainty. 

The Prime Minister will say: 

Let’s not beat around the bush, big business didn’t want Brexit. You made that clear in 2016 and this body said it louder than any other. But what is also clear is that what you want now - and have wanted for some time - is certainty.

So that you can plan and invest, so you can grow and expand, so that you can create jobs and drive prosperity. Whilst you didn’t want it, the people did vote for it. And so it was for politicians to deliver it.

It has been politicians in a broken parliament - not you - that have failed in this and in some cases actively tried to sabotage the democratic will of the people. This is why we had to have this election. Our hung and broken parliament was set on prolonging this delay.

Britain stuck in gridlock and our economy stuck in first gear. Extension to extension. Marching business up to the top of the hill, only to march them down again.

And this is Corbyn’s plan at this election – the chaos and division of two more referendums, continued paralysis continued uncertainty.

With a Conservative majority Government you can be sure we will Get Brexit Done and leave with the New Deal that is already agreed – ending the uncertainty and confusion that has paralysed our economy.

The opposition’s plans

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party will be pitching plans to reform the apprenticeship levy, with the aim of making it better meet the needs of workers and employers, and tackle the climate emergency. 

Corbyn will promise to create a climate apprenticeship programme to deliver 320,000 apprenticeships in England during his first term in government. By 2030 the Labour Party claims it will have created 886,000 apprenticeships. 

The Labour Party states that Britain has a “severe skills shortage”, particularly in higher technical skills, and that businesses are already worried that they won’t be able to fill skilled posts. This is of particular concern given that the skills gap will only grow do to automation, the Party has said. 

Corbyn will claim that businesses will benefit from an average of 80,000 people per year being trained as apprentice engineers and technicians in renewable energy and transport, civil engineers and skilled tradespeople in sustainable construction, designers, and sustainable agriculture specialists. 

Under Labour’s plans, the Climate Apprenticeships will be open to new starters and those wanting to retrain. 

The programme will be funded by diverting 25 per cent of the funds employers already set aside through the Apprenticeship Levy and topped up by any dividends over the cap paid into Labour’s Inclusive Ownership Funds - expected to be £700 million by 2024. 

Speaking at the CBI conference, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution will be a central motor of the party’s plans to transform our country and economy, using public investment to create good, clean jobs, tackle the climate emergency and rebuild held back towns, cities and communities.

Climate Apprenticeships will offer training to school leavers and workers looking to change jobs mid-career, creating the engineers, technicians and construction workers we need to transition to a green economy.

This election is our last chance to tackle the climate emergency. The Tories have failed to invest in our economy, failed to deliver apprenticeships and failed to face up to the climate emergency.

Labour will deliver real change.

According to the BBC, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is set to tell the CBI that the Liberal Democrats are the “natural party of business”, as they are the main political party campaigning to put a stop to Brexit. 

Swinson is also set to attack Labour and the Conservative’s spending plans. She will say:

Both the Conservatives and Labour will have to scramble around for projects to pour money into just to keep their word - regardless of whether they're good projects and good use of public funds.

What the CBI wants

The CBI has released its ‘manifesto’ for what British business needs from the next government. It has said that whoever wins power in December must set the UK on course to “tackle the biggest challenges of our day” - including giving every young person the skills for a changing world; reducing the blight of inequality across our country; and tackling the climate crisis. 

The manifesto states that this will require a “more inclusive form of capitalism” than ever before. Key points include:

  • Addressing day-to-day concerns that have been neglected, including unreformed business rates, fixing the broken apprenticeship levy and completing vital infrastructure projects including HS2 and Heathrow

  • Establishing a new immigration system which provides access to labour and skills, focuses on contribution, not numbers, and gives business time to adapt

  • Committing to raise UK R&D expenditure to at least 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and set out a timeframe to increase this to 3% over the longer-term

  • Making 2020 a year of action on long term challenges, including a cross-party strategy for achieving Net Zero including heating and transport; a new business/government partnership on the scale of Beveridge to reskill 9 million people by 2030; and a recommitment to local industrial strategies and devolution to tackle regional inequality  

  • Creating an evidence-based policy environment for investment backed by sound, sustainable public finances.

It adds that all of this can be achieved by securing a good deal on Brexit, one which sees Britain’s future relationship with the EU based on staying aligned with EU rules where they are essential for frictionless trade and protecting the UK’s world-leading services sector. 

CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, said: 

The strength of the business-government relationship has underpinned the UK’s success for many decades.

It has driven progress at home, from the building of the Channel Tunnel to the development of renewable energy to address climate change. It has helped to make the UK the leading destination in Europe for foreign investors, with total investment worth $1.9 trillion and supporting millions of jobs.

But this relationship is being questioned. Too many people have lost faith in a system they don’t see working for them. In response, ideologies from both the left and right have emerged to fill the gap, pushing debate to extremes and offering superficial fixes to complex problems.

And we are seeing the results. Public faith in our politicians and institutions continues to erode, the historic partnership between business and government is under strain. Business investment has fallen for 18 months and productivity growth remains stubbornly sluggish. Confidence in the UK is faltering.

This cannot continue. But it is within our power to change it.