By Elizabeth Piper, Alistair Smout and Andrew MacAskill
LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) -Labour’s finance policy chief Rachel Reeves promised on Monday to “rebuild Britain” if in government, vowing to deploy “iron-clad” fiscal rules, crack down on fraud and work with business to get the country’s “future back”.
In a speech enthusiastically welcomed at the opposition party’s annual conference in the English city of Liverpool, Reeves reassured investors and voters alike that Labour, once seen as spendthrift, could be trusted with the economy.
Taking aim at the governing Conservative Party, she said they had pushed up mortgage payments under former Prime Minister Liz Truss whose uncosted spending plans caused market chaos.
Reeves accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s party of being bereft of new ideas, and said only Labour’s combination of strict spending, better tax collection that closes loopholes and a clampdown on fraud would offer the stability voters have lacked during a cost-of-living crisis.
“We will lift our living standards, make work pay, rebuild our public services, invest in homegrown industries in every corner of our country, and together we will get Britain its future back,” she said to a standing ovation.
With Labour commanding a hefty lead in opinion polls before an election expected next year, the party has both wooed companies and is being wooed by them, doubling capacity at its “business day” event which still has a waiting list of hopefuls.
In a surprise endorsement, former Bank of England governor Mark Carney praised Reeves as a “serious economist” who understood the big picture.
“It is beyond time we put her energy and ideas into action,” he said in a video message played to delegates after her speech.
Reeves also promised to spur investment and speed up the planning process around the building of critical infrastructure for energy, transport and technology within the first six months of government.
Pledging to restore business investment as a share of gross domestic product to the level under the last Labour government in 1997 to 2010, she said that would mean an additional 50 billion pounds every year in the British economy by the end of the decade – equivalent to 1,700 pounds per household.
Reeves, like Labour leader Keir Starmer, is keenly aware of the critical state of Britain’s public finances, which will curtail what the party can do if it forms the next government.
Labour has moved to bolster its economic reputation by promising to stick to a “non-negotiable” set of fiscal rules to ensure the party does not borrow to fund day-to-day spending and to set a budget every year by the end of November.
An opinion poll, by MHP/Savanta with the New Statesman Spotlight, suggested their efforts were being rewarded with the Conservatives no longer considered by those business leaders polled to be the preferred party of business.
After spending months setting out their stall to city financiers and business across Britain, their charm offensive seemed to have paid off.
Two business bosses confirmed that companies were queuing up to speak to Labour, hoping to get their concerns high on its agenda – one, a director at a major manufacturing company, said he was sending double the size of the team to the party’s event that he sent to the Conservatives’ conference last week.
Starmer told the event he wanted to learn from business but also wanted companies to understand the role of government.
“It’s got to be a partnership,” he said. “And therefore if we do come into government, you will be coming into government with us.”
(writing by Elizabeth Piper; additional reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Alex Richardson, Ed Osmond and Christina Fincher)