Business leaders have been lobbying the government relentlessly over the issue, after a temporary cap – which put a limit of 24,000 on non-EU workers – caused huge problems for firms.
In his first speech to the CBI as Prime Minister, Cameron said: “Let me give you this assurance – as we control our borders and bring immigration to a manageable level, we will not impede you from attracting the best talent from around the world.”
The reassurance represents something of a coup for business secretary Vince Cable, who has consistently argued that the cap must be designed so that firms are not disadvantaged. Michael Gove, the education secretary, and justice secretary Ken Clarke have also taken the side of industry against home secretary Theresa May.
A temporary limit was imposed in July to stop a rush of visa applications ahead of the permanent cap, which will come into force in April 2011. The government has promised to limit net immigration to the tens of thousands.
An aide to the Prime Minister said the government would always have implemented a cap that did not impede businesses from attracting the best global talent, but would not be drawn on what concessions will be made.
Meanwhile, Cameron launched a National Infrastructure Plan, which he said would “completely update and modernise our infrastructure”.
He claimed that the government had committed an extra £8.6bn to capital spending, while £30bn will be invested on transport over the next four years.
However, in the spending review, the transport budget was in fact cut by 15 per cent in real terms, although this is less than feared. Capital spending is also falling, from £50bn in 2011-12 to £46.4bn in 2014-15.