Below is the full text of the speech delivered by the Shadow Chancellor today at Labour’s online ‘Connected’ conference.
Thank you, Marie, and thank you for all your work to highlight the appalling impact of this crisis on disabled people, and what urgently needs to be done. Thank you also to everyone watching for bearing with the change of time, due to the announcement of a special briefing from the Chief Medical Officer and Scientific Advisor at 11.
Today it’s clear that we’re living through one of our country’s toughest years. I want to pay tribute to everyone who’s helping us through it. Our scientists and medics, who’ve achieved in months, progress on vaccines and treatments that would normally take years.
Our manufacturers and trade unions, who retooled aerospace and automotive factories to make life-saving ventilators at breakneck speed. And our key workers – carers, delivery drivers, nurses, shopworkers, police and so many others- who’ve moved mountains over the last six months.
Despite their achievements, despite the extraordinary sacrifices of the British people, our country is still suffering more than many others. And with daily cases of coronavirus now at nearly 4,000 again, we stand on the brink of even harder times.
How did it come to this? The worst excess death rate in Europe. Over 40,000 people died from coronavirus: each one a tragedy. A test, trace and isolate system that is still not working properly. And six wasted months of warnings from Labour that payments for people needing to self-isolate were not working, and that the government needed to look again, with the Conservatives only announcing additional payments two days ago. That continued failure to get a grip on the health crisis has plunged our country deeper into an economic crisis.
We’ve had the steepest recession in the G7. We’re on track for one of the slowest recoveries. And the crisis has shown in stark relief the appalling inequalities across our country- especially for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic People and for people with disabilities.
It’s shown how workers we should value the most are often paid the least – and as Angela said yesterday, that must change for our social carers as a matter of urgency. It’s shown how too many people are just one payslip away from losing their homes – with the ban on evictions expired; no future plan for those struggling with mortgages; and a quarter of families without even £100 to rub together in savings.
And the crisis has shown how the last ten years have stripped our public services to the bone. Already, with the economy still struggling, the language of “restraint” has returned. We all know what that means from the mouth of a Conservative Chancellor: more jobs lost in places that can least afford them – with local councils being hung out to dry and forced to cut thousands of staff. Attacking the very communities the Conservatives said they would protect. And taking place at a time when our government should be focused relentlessly on jobs, jobs, jobs.
Threatening to hike taxes now, just so they can cut them before the next election. To make even deeper spending cuts, in the hope people will have forgotten by the time they go to the polls. Playing politics with people’s jobs and livelihoods. All this is taking place while the Conservatives have wasted enormous amounts of public money. It is a file of failure that no carefully crafted Instagram story from the Chancellor can hide.
Just some examples: £130m to a Conservative donor for testing kits that were unsafe, £150m for face masks that couldn’t be used by NHS staff, over £2.6bn to be handed over in so-called job retention bonuses, to businesses who were going to bring staff back to work anyway, outsourced contract after outsourced contract which has simply failed to deliver.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Workers and businesses should expect more, much more from those in power. I’ve never missed an opportunity to confront financial mismanagement. I’ve spent my political career fighting international money laundering and tax evasion.
Taking on the tax dodgers, going toe to toe with the tech giants, lifting the lid on shell companies and stopping speculators from driving up prices for ordinary people. While the Chancellor was profiting from a financial system that took huge risks and then passed them onto ordinary people, I helped to rein it in.
As Chancellor, I would ensure that public money was always spent wisely. Targeted where it’s needed most. Not splurged where it isn’t. New leadership – with proper oversight of government contracts so they deliver value for money every time. Testing every single budget line against the goal of net zero carbon emissions. Because the evidence is crystal clear; investment that favours our climate, also favours jobs – in the short and long term.
The awful damage caused by this year’s floods have laid bare the costs of inaction. We can’t afford to miss opportunities for environmental innovation, and the jobs it will bring. And we can no longer accept public funds paying for projects that make the shift to net zero harder. Mark my words: as Chancellor I would never allow public spending to contribute to the climate crisis.
Instead public spending must help us climb out of it, supporting the jobs of the future in the process. A responsible approach to the national finances. Because you’re only as cavalier with public money as our current Chancellor, if you don’t know the value of it.
We in Labour know that if you are responsible with public money, it can transform lives. We’re showing this in Labour-run Wales, which capped rates relief so money that would have gone to giant firms was targeted instead at small companies that really needed it. Using public money effectively, to safeguard jobs and keep families and communities secure. That more secure future may seem a long way off in these dark times.
But today I’ll set out how we can get there. Three steps to recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild business. Our country is in the grip of a jobs crisis. The job retention scheme has been a lifeline for millions of workers. But the Chancellor’s insisting on a one-size-fits-all withdrawal for over four million people, in five weeks’ time. Workers like those I met from a live music venue in Leeds – one of the most successful in the country, but which simply can’t operate as normal right now.
The furlough scheme can’t, and shouldn’t, go on forever. But a system of targeted wage support would protect those jobs that are essential for our recovery. Last week Keir made a big, open offer to government to work with us. We’ve heard nothing back. If the Chancellor’s listening, here’s what we’d bring to the table.
Our job recovery scheme would enable businesses in key sectors to bring staff back to work, on reduced hours, with government backing wages for the rest of the week. The scheme would incentivise targeted businesses to bring back more workers part-time, instead of bringing some back full time, and letting others go.
Businesses would also be incentivised to offer their staff high quality training, with an increase in support where staff undertake courses to help them prepare for the future. Unlike the Conservatives’ schemes, it wouldn’t involve a blank cheque.
Support would go to businesses signing up to treat their workers decently, meet net zero obligations and pause dividend payments for the duration of the scheme. Government would work with businesses and trades unions to identify sectors hardest hit by the crisis and most critical for our economic future – and secure those jobs.
So I call on Rishi Sunak, yet again: will you work with us to secure jobs? Sadly, we know that many jobs have already gone. Nearly 700,000 since March. The human cost is enormous. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve talked to who’ve lost their job during this crisis. You can hear the pain and worry in their voice.
People who can’t believe how threadbare our country’s safety net is, when they need it. People who’ve been sending out job applications countless times, never hearing anything back. People whose lives have been turned upside down; who’ve never felt insecurity like this before.
A spell of unemployment when someone is young can slash by a fifth what they can earn during the rest of their life. Unemployment knocks confidence. Destroys skills. And scars communities for decades. That’s why we must do far, far more so the unemployed and those facing unemployment can retrain, so they can get into the jobs of the future.
The government has wasted months on this, when a limited and underused ‘training portal’ was the only thing on offer. A nationwide Retraining Strategy would help people whose hours have been cut to increase skills or retrain. It would also enable people who’ve lost their job already, to transition into new work.
Training must be a core part of a job recovery scheme. High-quality training, fitting workers’ needs – not just ticking boxes. Training so people can be ready for the working challenges of the future, from going digital, to greening our workplaces, to skills for the caring professions.
But we’ve got a mountain to climb on skills, after ten years of neglect. So we must also build capacity in adult education, the JobCentre Plus network and further education. To achieve this, the Conservatives must stop delaying and bring forward the £3bn they’ve earmarked for a National Skills Fund, so that money can be put to use right now.
Finally, we must work together to rebuild businesses. That needs real partnership – and trust – between government and businesses. Businesses who’ve had to watch our global reputation being trashed, as the Conservatives threaten to break international law. Businesses despairing at the contrast between the UK government’s limited ambitions, and the green investment being undertaken in Germany, France and beyond.
As Chancellor, I would restore that trust with business. Because I understand what a critical role business plays in creating jobs and supporting livelihoods across the country. I’ve talked to so many business owners who can feel a lifetime of hard work slipping through their fingers. My father was a small businessman; an accountant who worked a six-day week for decades. His staff were more like friends than employees. I know how awful he would feel if he were in the shoes of so many business owners right now.
Because there are other cliff edges looming. Just as the Chancellor has allowed the clock to run down on the four million people on furlough, he’s doing exactly the same for the millions of businesses that have needed a helping hand to survive these last few months.
From March next year, repayments will start for the loan schemes set up to help businesses through the crisis. But on the current trend, our economy won’t be anything like back to normal by then. Without effective government action, many companies will go to the wall – with more job losses and more costs for the public finances.
That’s why I’m calling today for the Chancellor to act urgently and put in place a business rebuilding programme. To do for businesses struggling with debt what we’ve repeatedly asked him to do for workers whose jobs are at risk. That programme must be set up now – so we don’t end up once again with last-minute, panicked schemes that wastes public money. It must be targeted, so support goes to purposeful, responsible businesses that will invest for the future – including meeting our net zero target.
Businesses and workers need a Chancellor who will listen and take the action our country needs- not one who stubbornly ploughs on with plans that leave them facing this crisis on their own. Recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild business. Three steps to a better, more secure future.
Government working hand in hand with business and trade unions, in the best interests of our country. This is an ambitious Labour vision – where security and fairness aren’t just aspirations, but where they are a reality for families and communities across our country.
New leadership – so people can have hope for the future, with a government that they can trust, not one which plays political games. A Labour Chancellor who knows the costs of failing to tackle the climate crisis- and the opportunities from the green jobs of the future. Who knows that public money can transform lives and communities, so will never let it go to waste. And who understands how insecure so many people feel right now across our country – and is determined to do something about it. Together, we can do better – and with your help, we will.