In his first conference speech as party leader, Ed Miliband expressed his determination to “make Labour the party of enterprise”. We’re clear that we want to see more people starting, leading and working in business across all parts of Britain, spurring private sector growth.
Labour has energetically pursued this goal: we’ve set up an entrepreneurs’ network – NG: Next Generation – to support and showcase the best of British innovation, new business ideas and inspirational business leaders. We helped establish Small Business Saturday, the largest celebration of small business the country has seen, and which saw £500m of spending driven into the pockets of small firms. Through our future candidates programme, we’ve actively encouraged those with business backgrounds to stand for election. We have entrepreneurs standing for Labour in key seats such as Victoria Groulef in Reading and Kate Godfrey in Stafford.
Key planks of Labour’s policy development process have been led by business people such as our Small Business Taskforce; Jaguar Land Rover’s Executive Director Mike Wright leading a review on strengthening manufacturing supply chains; and Sir George Cox’s on tackling short termism. And we’ve engaged with thousands of businesses and business organisations across the country on our policies.
The next Labour government is determined to take an active role in supporting businesses as they face tough challenges such as ensuring they get access to the finance they need.
Business owners consistently say that a barrier to growth is the difficulty in getting finance. According to the Bank of England, net lending to business fell by £3.4bn in the last quarter, with lending to small firms down by £500m. While business lending remains sluggish despite the government’s numerous failed schemes such as Project Merlin and Credit Easing, Germany saw increased lending during the global downturn. This is because it has the sparkassen, a local banking system to support small business run by managers with real autonomy to lend in the local economies whose needs they serve and understand.
We’re determined to emulate this. That’s why the next Labour Government will put in place a proper British Investment Bank supported by a network of local banks. We also need more competition within banking through more challenger banks and more peer-to-peer lending.
Employers of all sizes in Wyre Forest tell me that the skills system needs reforming to provide the pipeline of talent which business and industry need, and boost the number of high-skilled, better-paid jobs.
Labour would put employers in the driving seat through rigorous new standards so that all apprenticeships last a minimum of two years and are at level three, and all young people study English and Maths to eighteen. We will drive up standards at FE colleges by requiring all new college teachers to have level two qualifications in maths and English. We’ll also introduce a new Technical Baccalaureate for 16-19 year olds, a gold-standard vocational qualification. The next Labour Government will work with companies and universities to develop new Technical Degrees. For the first time, young people will have the chance to earn while they learn at university, with a degree that provides a clear route to a high-skilled technical or professional career.
We will also invest for the long-term with an independent National Infrastructure Commission to end the dither and delay on the big decisions we need to make for the future.
These are just some of our policies. We also believe a stronger economy is about fostering a culture where an entrepreneurial career path is more accessible for young people, nurturing the business leaders and successful start ups of tomorrow. Waltham Forest’s Labour Council has pioneered a scheme to encourage those from the world of enterprise to become school governors to help foster new opportunities. A Labour government will give the scheme national backing to make it easier for entrepreneurs to become school governors.
Rebalancing Britain’s economy means tackling long-term challenges and working with businesses of all sizes to make it happen. That’s why in July we brought together hundreds of business leaders at our Inclusive Prosperity conference to discuss how best we can work to take forward that shared vision. As we look ahead to next year’s general election, I’m looking forward to continuing those conversations with business people across Wyre Forest.