It is no secret that Labour went into the 2010 General Election without the business support we would have hoped for. However, that was then and this is now – people want to know what we have done since 2010 with the 2015 General Election in view.
We are clear: business is the solution, not the problem. Business working in partnership with Government is central to building an economy that works for working people, resolving the cost-of-living crisis, delivering jobs that pay a wage people can live off and that ensures we pay our way in the world.
A key component of Labour’s Policy Review, launched by Ed Miliband in 2010, has been work on building the right environment for businesses to start up and grow and to secure long term, sustainable growth which is better balanced across the sectors and regions of the country, and which boosts exports.
We haven’t just worked closely with business on this; we have put business people in charge of helping us do the heavy lifting. So, in 2010 we set up Labour’s Small Business Taskforce, under the chairmanship of the late Nigel Doughty, composed of entrepreneurs and small business owners.
We have carried on in this vein. In 2011, City lawyer Nick Tott produced a report for us making the case for a British investment bank.
In 2012 we asked the former Director General of the Institute of Directors, Sir George Cox, to carry out an investigation into how we tackle short termism in British business – you can read his report here. In 2013 Mike Wright, Executive Director of Jaguar Land Rover, was asked to look into how we can develop UK manufacturing supply chains.
Alongside a strong policy review process, Ed appointed a Shadow Business, Innovation & Skills ministerial team in Parliament with direct experience of setting up, running or working for business. Toby Perkins MP, our Shadow Small Business Minister, ran his own rugby clothing and equipment firm before entering parliament. Similarly, Shadow Trade & Investment Minister, Ian Murray MP, set up and ran an events company, and Liam Byrne MP, our Shadow Minister for Universities, Science & Skills, ran a fast-growing tech outfit. I spent eight years as a commercial lawyer acting for businesses large and small.
In the Lords, Parry Mitchell, Labour’s Business Ambassador founded, grew and subsequently sold three international companies in the IT services sector. This year, Ed appointed Lord Charles Allen to join Parry and others in the Lords – Charles is a former CEO of ITV and Chairman of Global Group, the UK’s largest commercial radio provider. He joins a stellar cast of leading Labour business peers including the industrialist Kumar Bhattacharyya, media veteran Clive Hollick, financier Paul Myners, and The Apprentice’s Lord Sugar, amongst many others.
Labour’s business team is hugely grateful for the engagement there has been at the many meetings and events we have attended and held, through our Entrepreneurs Network ‘NG: Next Generation’ and at our Annual Business Reception (attended by more than a thousand people in 2013).
We have not only been listening but acting on the advice we have received. So not only are we committed to setting up a British Investment Bank, as Nick Tott recommended, but we will also establish a network of regional banks, one of the principal recommendations in the report of our Small Business Taskforce. Iain Wright MP, our Shadow Industry Minister, and I have also constantly repeated our commitment to implementing a comprehensive industrial strategy as Sir George Cox has called for, to form the cornerstone of how the UK is going to build competitive businesses in the long term. This has been welcomed by the CBI and others.
The consistent message we’ve received throughout the Policy Review process is that we cannot go back to business as usual following the global financial crash of 2008/09. We have acknowledged we did not do enough to regulate the banking sector during our time in office and are determined to learn from those mistakes.
That is why, in the small minority of sectors where we see uncompetitive, anti-enterprise, practices – be it in banking or energy – myself, our Shadow Competition Minister Stella Creasy MP and our frontbench colleagues are clear: we will do what so many in business ask for and act. So our commitment to freeze energy prices whilst we put in place a more competitive regulatory framework in the first 20 months of a Labour government, will help the 2.4 million businesses hit by energy price hikes, saving an average small business user over £5,000.
We are also clear that, if we win in 2015, we will be inheriting a very difficult financial landscape – with George Osborne forecast to borrow almost £200bn more than he planned over the course of this Parliament. Business organisations have said reducing the deficit and paying down this debt will involve tough decisions. They are right. Ed Balls has already indicated that we cannot continue to pay the winter fuel allowance to the richest pensioners, we will have a cap on structural social security spending and over the long-term, as our population ages, there will need to be increases in the retirement age.
But business cannot expect to be immune from the tough decisions they call on us to make. That is why, instead of giving just 88,000 businesses a further corporation tax cut from 21 to 20% in 2015, our judgement is that that money would be better spent cutting and then freezing business rates for 1.5 million business premises at a time when public resources are so tight. John Allan, Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, welcomed Ed Miliband’s pledge to act on business rates at our 2013 conference, calling it “leadership.”
Finally, we finished 2013 as we intend to continue: championing our businesses which already do so much to deliver the jobs and growth we need, so that future generations can realise their aspirations and potential. In January, I instigated the UK’s first ever Small Business Saturday – a cross-party campaign of organisations and businesses which went on to put on the UK’s biggest celebration of business we have seen in a generation on 7 December 2013. Small Business Saturday helped push almost half a billion pounds worth of business to our local, small, independent firms. My friend and colleague Simon Danczuk MP put his money where his mouth is, launching his family’s deli business on the same day. It all goes to show that, as we start 2014, Labour is back in business.
Chuka Umunna is Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills