Below is the speech given by Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders electrified conference 2021 today.
Thank you so much for inviting me to address you during this critically important event. This is a crucial event, in a crucial year, to be talking about our collective aim to reach net zero. We are emerging from the coronavirus pandemic into the make-or-break decade for meeting that target. The United Nations has been clear: we have less than ten years to avert the worst impacts of catastrophic climate change. And all eyes will be on the UK later this year when we host the COP26 summit and seek to accelerate progress towards the goals of the Paris agreement.
Getting there will require all of us to play our part – and so many are already doing so. Households up and down the country have changed their behaviour, from recycling waste to reducing their energy use. Whole industries – especially automotive – have been making fundamental changes to their business models, with more to come. And government has to play its part, too. Setting the direction for others to follow. Incentivising the right behaviour and, yes, disincentivising those who hold back or drag their feet.
We need a huge collective effort. An effort of the type we’ve seen at times during the last 12 months. The coronavirus crisis has been an appalling shock to our country, with the most devastating health and economic consequences. But our collective response has also demonstrated the power of coming together. We’ve seen this in the inspirational partnership between Oxford University and AstraZeneca in developing a vaccine at astonishing speed. And in the ventilator challenge, when the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing worked with major manufacturers, trade unions and government – and they all delivered the seemingly impossible, to record time.
That experience provides many lessons about the power of joint working. About the power of an active and enterprising government, working with business and trade unions, in a new spirit of partnership. We should hold on to these lessons as we emerge from this crisis and consider how we can better tackle the present climate crisis, and future additional crises. But those lessons are already at risk of being lost.
In the last few weeks we’ve seen the industrial strategy mothballed – a strategy which brought business together with government, to develop long-term plans for different sectors. The industrial strategy council has been actively disbanded. We need a government ready to take the bold action needed to set us on the path both to post-crisis growth and to net zero, working with business to achieve this. But what we’ve got in the UK, is a government in retreat.
A government that cut £500m from planned capital spending in the latest Budget, when our international peers rightly see the virtue of wise public investment to stimulate growth. A government whose flagship scheme to promote retrofitting and renewable energy sources for households has failed so miserably it is actually costing jobs. And rather than trying to fix it and get it back on track, the Chancellor slashed its budget and left it to wither and die. A government whose response to the challenge of increasing take-up of electric vehicles is to cut the plug-in grants that would help people buy new cars. That lack of aspiration contrasts woefully with the appetite I know there is in industry and amongst the general population, to harness the power of green technologies.
I was privileged to attend the launch of the new electric mini – built in my own constituency of Oxford East at the BMW Cowley plant. I know how proud the workforce are of what they have created – it’s a pride I’ve also seen reflected when I visited the LEVC factory in Coventry. Our country needs a government with similar self-confidence and determination- to set out a vision for our critical industries and our economy as a whole, and a path to get there. We have not seen that confidence and determination over the last ten years- and we do not see it now. Ten years ago, the then coalition government published a ‘plan for growth’.
However, since the publication of that plan: UK growth has dropped below the OECD average; our trade balance has worsened; levels of foreign direct investment have halved; we have fallen down the World Bank’s rankings for ease of doing business; we have the highest levels of skills mismatch in the G7; apprenticeship starts have collapsed; and we have a £70bn investment gap compared to the rest of the G7. Most starkly of all, the Office for Budget Responsibility has illustrated that successive Conservative-led governments have fallen spectacularly short of their ambitions for growth.
Back in 2011, the OBR looked ahead fifteen years and set out what they thought the economy would look like based on the government’s plans. Earlier this month, they did the same exercise based on what we know now. The result is that our economy is set to be £300bn smaller by 2026 than the OBR had originally forecast. That’s every person in the country being £4,500 worse off. We need to be far more ambitious for Britain than simply reiterating pledges from 2011, many of which still haven’t been delivered.
We deserve a government that is ambitious for the future of our country, and understands that what businesses need more than anything right now is certainty and stability. That’s why our Shadow Business Secretary, Ed Miliband, this morning set out three crucial ways in which Labour would give manufacturers and consumers alike the confidence they need for a mass rollout of electric vehicles. By accelerating the rollout of charging infrastructure right across the country, and supporting new jobs in the process. By making electric vehicle ownership more affordable through a combination of interest-free loans for those on low incomes and a scrappage scheme. And by government partnering with private investors to guarantee three new gigafactories by 2025 – so that batteries are made right here in the UK and we secure the supply chain.
We know that by providing clear, forward guidance to investors and businesses alike, government can and should lay the groundwork for the private sector to innovate, to flourish, to create more jobs and transition to net zero. That strategic, long-term thinking is at the heart of Labour’s approach to economic policy. Labour’s horizon for economic policy would not end after five years. Instead I would be aiming ten and ideally 20 years from now – so that we can take the difficult and necessary choices today that would lead to greater security and prosperity in the future. We would also focus on how every level of government can work, together with business, trade unions and local communities, to ensure we see economic growth right across our country.
It’s a very different strategy to that of the Conservatives, where town is pitted against town in bidding for pots of cash doled out by ministers in Whitehall, and where businesses and local authorities have invested time, money and energy in drawing up regional industrial strategies, only for the whole exercise to have apparently been dropped by government earlier this month. We should use the power of government, in a new partnership with business, trade unions and communities, to maximise the potential of every part of the country – so that wherever public money is invested we see genuine commitment to the use of local businesses in the supply chain, and to the creation of local jobs and training opportunities.
We do not need here to remake the wheel. That kind of strategic approach to innovation has already often been in evidence, in Labour-run Wales, London, Manchester and elsewhere. That type of concerted action is only possible if the government of the day truly believes it can make a difference. If government recognises the part it can and must play in setting targets and enabling businesses, trade unions, communities and individuals to come together to meet them. Today, we are talking about the most important target of all. A target that is existential. That requires a government that is up to the task. I can assure you that a Labour government would be. Thank you.