Conservative party conference: Business leaders slam Philip Hammond for offering "slim pickings", and demand action in next month's Budget

Catherine Neilan
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Conservative Party Conference 2017- Day One
Source: Getty

Business groups rubbished Philip Hammond's speech as leaving industry with "slim pickings", and urged for him to use next month's Budget to act.

Hammond today confirmed the £10bn extra funding for help to buy and the £300m to "future-proof" the railway network in the north, both policies which were well trailed over the weekend.

In a speech that focused heavily on the growing threat from Labour, the chancellor also said Brexit would only succeed under a strong capitalist economy.

"That means re-fighting a battle we thought we had won against an opposition determined to put Britain’s prosperity at risk," he said in Manchester today.

"We will not allow Britain’s prosperity to be threatened, our security to be undermined. We will take on the false promises of Corbyn’s Labour and one by one we will expose them for the fallacies that they are. We will not allow the past to triumph over the future. We will not allow the politics of fear to trump the politics of progress.

"We will see off this threat to our fundamental freedoms."

Read more: Hammond vows to keep City top of the world

But his big speech was greeted like a damp squib by industry leaders

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said his "passionate" defence was "necessary, but not sufficient". Businesses looking for certainty from the chancellor had instead been left with "slim pickings".

She added: “The UK is facing a generation defining-challenge. A potent cocktail of Brexit uncertainty and dogma-driven politics on both left and right threatens jobs, investment and living standards. Now is not the time for half measures.

“It is time for honesty about the challenges we face. Our economy is under threat – it has moved from the top of the G7 to the bottom... The solution must be for responsible business and government to grow our way out of austerity. But this can only happen with clarity, unity and action."

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said defending free markets "requires competence and coherence at the heart of government".

"Clarity on Brexit, and strong, practical policies to support economic growth here at home, remain the top priorities for our firms – and ministers must deliver," he said.

Read more: Philip Hammond: The UK makes progress by embracing the market

Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, echoed their calls for action, saying Hammond "must use the Budget to boost investment by individuals and companies".

“It was welcome to hear the chancellor acknowledge the importance of a transitional period, but he also to has make the domestic changes needed to shore up business confidence," he added.

Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, went further, accusing Hammond of hypocrisy within the speech.

"Philip Hammond’s criticism of the simplicity of the Labour Party’s agenda of state intervention was accurate, but with policies such as Help to Buy they are again guilty of unnecessary meddling themselves. Propping up the scheme only distorts the housing market more, which is already in a perpetual state of crisis.

"If the Conservatives are serious about getting young people on the housing ladder, the answer is clear: liberalise the housing market and build more homes.”

Hammond was speaking days after a Legatum Institute report revealed that the general public have lost patience with capitalism, with greater support for nationalisation and increased taxation than is generally accepted.

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