Jeremy Corbyn promised that a Labour government would make “common ground” with business as the opposition leader outlined his party’s plans to remould the economy if elected.
Speaking to an audience of delegates at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry, Mr Corbyn said Labour would commit to spending 3 per cent of national output on research development and ending the private finance initiative.
“This isn’t a throwback to a bygone era, it’s entirely in step with what is happening in much of the rest of the world,” he said as he made an appeal to find areas of agreement with the CBI. “We have common ground on Brexit. We have common ground on investment, training and industrial strategy.”
He promised “big changes” and said a future Labour government would set up a regional development bank as well as altering the tax system to encourage more investment in technology.
As well as potential tax cuts for business, he said Labour would “raise some taxes” to pay for its plans. “We will be clear and open about our tax plans. We won’t do it by stealth,” he said. “Labour industrial strategy is built on national missions for energy transition and to increase research and development spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030.”
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) called it “intriguing” but said more detail was needed. “Digital infrastructure is essential to the future of UK retail as more consumers go online to buy products and for the digital economy to grow,” Tom Ironside, business and regulation policy director at the BRC, said.
Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director-general, said that while business agreed with Labour’s aim for an “innovative and productive” economy, there were “fundamental differences on the ways to get there”. She said: “It is clear that competitive markets are the best way to improve people’s lives. Abandoning this model will hurt those who need help most and make the UK a laggard in the global race for investment.”
Mr Corbyn got a warm round of applause as he left the stage, despite a thinly veiled attack on the City. “We all know that an economic model that allows a few to grow very rich while the majority face falling incomes and rising indebtedness, that leaves too many people in unfulfilling and insecure work, that is reliant on one sector, in one region, is neither stable nor sustainable,” Mr Corbyn said.
Hours earlier, Theresa May offered a more positive view of the City’s future as she gave her speech to the CBI. “While the power and potential of the market is immense, I also strongly believe in the good that government can do,” she said. “We have already seen this really work for one sector of the economy: the financial services sector.
“That model of a strategic, long-term partnership between government and a vital sector, effective and evolving regulatory frameworks and incentives, has led to global pre-eminence for the UK.”
However, she said the past model had broken down during the financial crisis. “The next ten years must see the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the British economy,” she said.