CBI hears from party leaders as Tories, Labour and Lib Dems try to win business votes

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson are separately pitching their plans to top business leaders.

In a bid to secure support from industries ahead of polling day on December 12, the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats will each make a speech on stage at the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) Annual Conference at the InterContinental London - The O2.

The Conservative pitch

Boris Johnson was first to make the case for his party, saying a Conservative government would shelve a corporation tax cut from 19% to 17% due next year - saving £6 billion which will be put into public services, he claimed.

The prime minister said such a change is the "fiscally responsible thing to do at the present time" and named the NHS as among the services expected to receive money as a result.

He said if the country’s potential is “enormous then so is the injustice”, pointing to regions of the country lagging behind London.

The prime minister said: "I hope you won't mind if I also announce today that we are postponing further cuts in corporation tax.

"And before you storm the stage and protest, before you storm the stage, let me remind you this saves us £6 billion that we can put into the priorities of the British people, including the NHS."

He added: “I hope you will understand it is the sensible, it is the fiscally responsible thing to do at the present time.

“It doesn’t mean we’re in any way averse to reducing taxes on business, as I’m sure you’ll understand.”

And the prime minister told business leaders the country is being "held back by politics" and by a Parliament that has failed to deliver Brexit.

He told the conference: "The country is being held back, let's be clear, by politics.

"And by a Parliament that for the last three and a half years has simply failed to discharge its basic promise made umpteen times to honour the mandate of the people and deliver Brexit.

"That is why we must have an election now."

He added he is aware that many from the business community voted to remain in the EU but want to respect the result of the referendum.

Asked if he could rule out the threat of a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020, he said there is "no reason why can’t get deal done in the time available".

The Labour pitch

Mr Johnson's announcement on the delay of corporation tax cuts came as Jeremy Corbyn vowed to put an end to the "tax tricks" that allow the "biggest corporations to avoid paying their way".

Mr Corbyn said claims he is anti-business are "nonsense" and said it is in the business community's interest to end poverty pay and contribute with their fair share of taxes.

He said: “It is sometimes claimed that I am anti-business. Actually this is nonsense, it’s not anti-business to be against poverty pay.

“It’s not anti-business to say that the largest corporations should pay their taxes just as smaller companies do.

“And it’s not anti-business to want prosperity in every part of the country, not only in the financial centres in the city of London.

"I say this to business too: if a Labour government is elected on December 12, you're going to see more investment than you've ever dreamt of.

"You're going to have the best educated workforce you could ever have hoped for, and you're going to get the world-leading infrastructure, including full fibre broadband you've long, long demanded, year after year at these conferences."

Mr Corbyn said he was "not making any apologies" for pledging to bring some key services into public ownership, saying the plans are "essential steps".

He said: "It's not an attack on the foundations of a modern economy, it's the very opposite. It's the norm in many European countries.

"It's taking the essential steps to build a genuinely mixed economy for the 21st century."

He also said Labour wants to set up a Sustainable Investment Board - involving the Chancellor, Business Secretary and Bank of England Governor - and explained: "And there'll also be seats for businesses and trade unions.

"A Labour government will work closely with business because it's in our common interest to build the high-skill, green economy of the future. There is no time for complacency."

The Labour leader confirmed plans to deliver a new climate apprenticeship programme with 320,000 apprenticeships in England if his party wins the election.

Labour also plans to give all local authorities the right to take bus services into public ownership if Labour wins the General Election.

The party will be “empowering local authorities to develop bus services where they don’t exist”, Mr Corbyn said, by extending powers to bring routes into public ownership or franchise “to all”.

So far, only metro mayors have the power to re-regulate buses under the Bus Services Act 2017.

“Bus access is something that’s very, very important to all of your workforce,” he said.

“And, of course, to communities as a whole, and if we want to develop suburban and rural areas economically then there has to be a good quality public transport system for them,” he said.

The Lib Dem pitch

The Liberal Democrats would scrap business rates if voted into power, party leader Jo Swinson said.

As well as repeating her pledge to stop Brexit if her party is voted into power, Ms Swinson announced to the CBI, her party would scrap business rates to support small businesses and "breathe new life into our high streets".

She said: "The Liberal Democrats are committed to supporting small businesses who are the engine of our economy.

"That's why the Liberal Democrats would scrap business rates and replace them with a commercial landowner levy.

"It will shift the burden from the tenant to the landlord so that we can breathe new life into our high streets."

She added: "It is time for clear action that will give proper help to our small businesses."

A Liberal Democrat government would introduce a "general duty of care", she added, requiring businesses to consider their environmental impact.

She said: "We we will introduce a general duty of care for the environment and human rights for all companies and public sector agencies."

Ms Swinson added: "And we will ask all UK listed companies and private companies with more than 250 staff to have at least one employee representative on their boards.

"That will help rebuild trust between workers and bosses."

Brexit has distracted the Government and left businesses frustrated, Ms Swinson added.

Addressing the CBI conference, Ms Swinson said: "The vote to leave the European Union has distracted the Government from addressing the very real issues in our economy.

"It's created great uncertainty about the future of our country, the future of our economy and our relationship with our closest trade partners.

"I can only imagine how frustrating it is for all of you, every time we end up days away from crashing out of the EU. How frustrating it is to watch the Government recklessly pursue a policy that would be damaging to your business.

"How frustrating it is that you are having to pay such a high price just so Boris Johnson gets to play at being Prime Minister. Just so the man who said 'f business' can sit in Number 10."

In June 2018, Mr Johnson refused to deny he said "f business" when asked about businesses' concerns about Brexit at a diplomatic gathering.

What do businesses want?

Director-General of the CBI, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn. Credit: PA

The Director General of the CBI, said that whichever party wins the General Election must prioritise working with business to provide “bolder, better and fairer” answers to the challenges facing the UK.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn has also accused politicians of ignoring the interests of businesses in recent times.

In the business group’s manifesto for political parties, which outlines the steps the next government should take to help businesses, the CBI calls for business rates to be reformed, the “broken” Apprenticeship Levy to be fixed, and for vital infrastructure projects like HS2 and the Heathrow expansion to be completed.

The CBI has also called for a new immigration system which provides access to labour and skills, focuses on contribution, not numbers, and gives business time to adapt.

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