Both Conservatives and Labour want to be seen as the party of business as the next General Election looms. And just as the CBI’s General Election Countdown conference set out to raise the voice of business, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt and Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds were keen to tell the audience they were listening.
So what should business leaders take from what the politicians said?
Jonathan Reynolds was the first to the stage. And businesses will welcome his reassurance that Labour is “now the serious partner you need us to be”.
“We need to see business succeeding in order for our wider ambitions to be met,” he said. “The major economic issues before us: low investment, low productivity and low growth – can only be fixed with a better relationship between government and the private sector.”
He gave a clear commitment that Labour would introduce an industrial strategy across government, which they’d put on a statutory footing to provide the long-term ambition and certainty businesses need.
He also acknowledged the need to support increased business investment, and promised to provide greater flexibility on the apprenticeship levy and planning reform – key asks for our members.
Thank you to so many people in this room for the engagement, the advice and the support that you've given me in this role.... I hope that you see that engagement reflected in Labour's plans— Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade
Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade, addresses the CBI audience
The Chancellor spoke to CBI CEO Rain Newton Smith in a more informal chat.
He urged businesses to talk up the positives of the UK – particularly given its strengths in technology, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and creative industries – industries that will grow the fastest in the 21st century. Alongside having the best universities and financial services in the world, that gives us “something special”.
He still wants the UK to be the world’s next Silicon Valley – which means focusing on the business environment to help start ups to scale.
Businesses will welcome his focus on long-term growth and how he believes tackling our productivity challenge is key. “If we fix productivity, we’ll be unstoppable,” he said.
And speaking just two days before the Autumn Statement, he promised “a whole range of measures designed to unlock business investment” and make us more internationally competitive.
I have really valued the interactions with you [Rain Newton-Smith], the CBI and many of the people in this room, and I’m grateful for that— Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor