Rishi Sunak has vowed to create opportunities for the UK’s entrepreneurs after the Covid crisis, while also foreshadowing future “hard choices” on public spending.
Sunak used his first conference speech as chancellor to say it was his “single priority” to to “create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can” and “to not let talent wither or waste” during the Covid recession.
“In a free market economy it is the entrepreneur, who is critical,” he said.
“And we will make it easier for those with the ambition and appetite to take risks and be bold, to do what they do best and create jobs and growth.”
The chancellor also said that the Tory party had a “sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong”.
The chancellor has spent more than £190bn on emergency Covid measures, however he today signalled that there would eventually need to be budgetary cut backs and tax rises.
Sunak’s message aimed to put clear blue water between the Tories and Labour as he stressed the need to balance the books.
“Through careful management of our economy, this Conservative government will always balance the books,” he said.
“If instead we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?
“I have never pretended there is some easy cost-free answer. Hard choices are everywhere.”
Sunak also used his conference speech to call for the Conservatives to return to becoming a party that stresses “individual freedom” in an apparent attempt to woo the growing number of Tory MPs unhappy with the government’s direction.
A backbench rebellion last week saw up to 80 Tory MPs prepared to vote against the government extending its emergency coronavirus powers.
However, the amendment that was backed by the rebellion was not chosen by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Johnson altered the legislation to allow parliamentary scrutiny of future measures implemented at a national level.
Tory MP Steve Baker, one of the most high profile rebels, said that “it is no longer appropriate to curtail our freedoms by ministerial decree”.
Sunak today praised the Prime Minister for his efforts in handling the coronavirus, before saying that the Tories needed to return to its traditional role as small government party.
“We believe in personal responsibility and pragmatism. We believe in the nobility of work and free enterprise,” he said.
“Our values are old and true and have withstood tests of strife, of terror, and even war. They are timeless because they are a wisdom earned over generations.
“And they are universal, because they are rooted in the fundamental belief that individual freedom enables both the greatest achievement and the gentlest kindness. People looked at us last December and saw this Conservative party.”
Sunak’s speech was met positively by business groups, with the Institute of Directors’ policy director Roger Barker that “business leaders share the chancellor’s priority of creating opportunity”.
“To get companies on the front foot, the Treasury should act quickly to ease employment costs,” he said.
“With job losses expected to mount, firms that are finding chinks of light should be empowered to pick up the slack.”
Federation of Small Businesses national chair Mike Cherry added: “The Chancellor said he wants to help small businesses to adapt while creating support and extending opportunities, but any further restrictions on trading must have an economic support package attached.
“It’s vital alongside this that he addresses the large gaps in support, especially to company directors and start-ups.”