To build a fairer and better-balanced economy, we must ensure there is strong growth and that it is fairly shared. As we and BAE’s Chair, Sir Roger Carr, argued at Policy Network’s Inclusive Prosperity conference last week, it is crucial to grow the size of the pie as well as ensure that it benefits everyone. Promoting and working in partnership with businesses large and small is essential to tackling the cost-of-living crisis and raising living standards.
This is why we initiated Britain’s first-ever Small Business Saturday last year, the biggest celebration of enterprise our country has ever seen, with half a billion pounds of additional revenue ringing through tills on the day.
And it’s why Labour commissioned Mike Wright, Executive Director of one of the country’s largest and best known companies - Jaguar Land Rover - to deliver a report on strengthening supply chains in the manufacturing sector which the CBI welcomed and said shone a “welcome spotlight on the importance of the advanced manufacturing sector”.
So we are determined to foster an environment where businesses of all sizes can thrive. This means better business support, particularly for start-ups, which is why Labour would establish a Small Business Administration based on the successful US equivalent which the Federation of Small Businesses has called for.
It means a revolutionised skills system, with a greater role for employers enabling the creation of more well-paid skilled jobs, as the British Chambers of Commerce have said.
But it also means ensuring that firms of all sizes can get access to the finance they need. This is why we advocate increasing competition in banking and setting up a proper British Investment Bank backed up by a regional network – so businesses get a better deal from our banking sector. Recent Bank of England statistics show that net lending to businesses has fallen by £2.2bn in the last quarter – with lending to small and medium-sized businesses down by £1 billion. This is why we must act.
And we must address Britain’s long-term infrastructure requirements which businesses desperately needs to function.
So we are backing the proposal brought forward by Sir John Armitt, formerly chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, in his report for Labour for an Independent Infrastructure Commission. This Commission would assess the UK’s infrastructure needs decades ahead, and hold government to account in meeting them.
Britain has some of the highest rail fares in Europe, with commuter fares up 20% since 2010. That hurts businesses and passengers alike. Labour will remove the ‘flex’ on fares brought back by this Government and introduce a tough cap on rail fares.
In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, we must deliver better value for money for both passengers and taxpayers through reform of the rail market. We need to end the stop-start cycle of rail procurement which holds back investment and harms businesses, large and small, in the rail supply chain. And we need to reform the government’s chaotic franchising system which wasted over £50m of public money on the West Coast mainline franchise fiasco.
Because of the rough treatment which many firms receive from others, for example the banks, they would take great offence at being lumped into the same bracket when people talk in generalised terms about British businesses.
So Labour is clear that we whilst we are resolutely pro-business, we are not pro-business as usual. In the minority of sectors and markets where we have seen a lack of competition having an adverse impact on small businesses and consumers alike, Labour will not stand idly by. We make no apology for acting to make markets more competitive and acting in the interest of consumers and small firms where a lack of competitiveness has harmful consequences. Those who benefit from the status quo do not speak for more than four million businesses across Britain.
It is Britain’s businesses of all sizes and their employees which have seen us through the downturn, and it is they who will take us through to a more prosperous future.
This was a joint article with Mary Creagh MP