Business groups give Corbyn the thumbs down after CBI speech

Catherine Neilan
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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's overtures to the business community have fallen on deaf ears this morning, with industry groups warning his policy pledges would undermine economic growth.

Speaking at the annual CBI conference, Corbyn reiterated Labour's plans to create a National Investment Bank and a National Education Service, and talked of "investing" in transport, energy and digital infrastructure, acknowledging taxes would rise to pay for it.

"But when we do, we will be clear and open about our tax plans, as we were during the general election campaign. We won’t do it by stealth," he said.

Throughout his speech, Corbyn emphasised the "common ground" shared by Labour and the business community.

However CBI's director general Carolyn Fairbairn suggested that was not the case.

She said: “There is a shared aim: industrial strategy and Brexit must be focused on building a fair, innovative and productive UK economy where society benefits. But there are fundamental differences on the ways to get there.

“It is clear that competitive markets are the best way to improve people’s lives. Abandoning this model will hurt those who need help most and make the UK a laggard in the global race for investment."

“Both businesses and Labour are determined to find ways to lift productivity and improve living standards in communities across the UK. Proposals on skills, innovation and infrastructure have potential, and these should be refined hand-in-hand with responsible business to ensure they are funded in a way that doesn’t cost jobs.

“Labour should recognise that their vision of significant state intervention including nationalisation, PFI and government procurement, would undermine such ambitions.

“If a new industrial strategy is to stand the test of time, finding common ground with business is important. But Labour and the government must work to find their own common ground so that approaches to skills, innovation and infrastructure do not continue to change with each political cycle."

Delegates spoken to by City A.M. suggested that while Corbyn's message had not changed, the context of an increasingly vulnerable government led by Theresa May - who had given a lacklustre speech first thing - meant people were more receptive.

Green belt

The Labour leader also said he was "very sceptical" about building on the green belt as a solution to the UK's housing crisis.

"If you take away this cordon of green space and cleaner air around big cities, I think you have the danger of massive ribbon development," he said. "In some cases there are land swaps that go on, where a piece of open space is created somewhere else in return for it. That obviously is a trade off that can be looked at.

"But I just think as a society, we all need a bit of open space around us. We all value our parks. You don’t go to them every day, but it’s good for you to know they are there and good for everybody else if they want to go and use them. So I am concerned about encroaching on the green belt."

Paradise Papers

Corbyn was forced to clarify his comments after appearing to suggest the Queen should apologise for her private estate investing in offshore funds.

In response to a questiony over whether the monarch should say sorry for the Duchy of Lancaster making overseas investments on her behalf, Corbyn said: “Anyone who is putting money into a tax haven... should do two things - they should apologise and recognise what it does for society.”

However, hours later Corbyn’s office scrambled to issue a clarification, claiming that the leader of the opposition was not calling for the Queen to personally apologise.

Corbyn added it was important to “challenge the idea that avoiding taxation is clever”, noting it “undermines everyone of us who pays our taxes properly and diligently”. The row developed amid the fallout from the release of leaked documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers.

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