Below is the text of the speech made by Angela Eagle, the Shadow First Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, on 22 February 2016.
It’s a great pleasure to be here, and thanks to the London Stock Exchange Group for putting on this important event.
It provides an opportunity to celebrate the success of the 1000 small and medium sized enterprises contained in the report, and more widely to congratulate entrepreneurs right across the country who risk everything in the pursuit of innovation and prosperity.
I offer my congratulations not because the pursuit of growth is an end in itself – but because it means a more productive economy, a wealthier country and the security of work for people in my constituency and throughout the UK.
And on that note – I have to declare a slight bias here as a Merseyside Member of Parliament – I am thrilled that 10 companies from my local area have been highlighted in this report.
The success achieved by small and medium sized enterprises should give Britain great cause for optimism for the future. No economy stands still and the more dynamic we can be, the greater our chances of ensuring prosperity for our citizens in the future.
Since taking on this role, my focus has been on reaching out to the business community, with the aim of understanding your needs and the work that policy-makers and those who aspire to be in Government can do to help create the conditions to enable you to succeed.
So I applaud the work you are doing and successes you’ve achieved. But in the decades to come Britain’s future success is not inevitable or guaranteed.
As entrepreneurs know better than most that we have to earn our way in this rapidly changing and highly competitive world.
I remain concerned that the government has been asleep at the wheel; leaving our domestic economy insufficiently resilient to advancing global threats, and not in a high-enough state of readiness to seize on the fast-approaching opportunities to make sure that Britain benefits from good growth.
A number of the threats facing our economy are global in nature, they’ve been advancing for some time and we in the Opposition have warned about the danger signs before.
There have been some worrying signs of slowdowns in China, volatility in stock markets across the world and oil prices have plummeted. And Eight years after the global financial meltdown we have yet to see a return to normalcy across the world economy.
Rather than washing his hands by excusing these threats as global phenomena – of which he’ll say there is little he can do to influence – the Chancellor should acknowledge that under his watch domestic structural weaknesses in the UK economy have been allowed to persist. They are now in danger of holding Britain back.
We have a productivity crisis – the gap between our productivity and that of the other G7 nations is at its widest since 1991, and the output per hour from UK workers fell further in 2014 to 19 percentage points below the average of other leading industrialised nations.
Businesses also face a skills emergency – the number of posts left unfilled has increased by 130% since 2011, and in some industries more than a third of vacancies are caused by skills shortages.
I am clear that Government should be pulling all possible levers to assist the growth of small and medium sized enterprises.
And that is why Labour supports the government’s plans to establish a Small Business Commissioner in the Enterprise Bill currently before Parliament, but their lack of ambition means that it falls to the Opposition to press for it be more than just a toothless complaints service. Labour will fight to make it more independent and authoritative so it can tackle the problem of late payments and misuse of market power by large companies.
Businesses are also being failed by the Government who are going in the wrong direction when it comes to meeting their promises on deregulation – they talk a good game on deregulation but the reality is quite different.
Having promised to “cut a further £10billion of red tape over the next Parliament…” research shows that since May the net cost to business from regulation is increasing.
This of course will not be news to you. Small and medium sized businesses routinely report that the heaviest regulatory burden they face is tax administration, and the government are set to saddle small businesses with more work by insisting that they file tax returns quarterly – in contrast Ministers met with Google some 25 times in advance of their negotiated sweetheart tax deal.
In the starkest of terms this just shows that it’s one rule for those who reach cosy private deals across the table from Ministers, and quite another for those small businesses and the self-employed who must now file their returns every three months.
Britain cannot afford to be complacent about our future prosperity, and it’s vital that the government take steps now to heighten our state of readiness to seize the opportunities for change which arise.
I’m optimistic for the future, not least because the world is now on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. I want us to take advantage of what will be an age of rapidly advancing digitalisation, an age of robotics and big data which is expected to transform our daily lives beyond recognition.
This age will confront us with profound questions about how to generate and share prosperity more effectively, how to ensure that the proceeds of growth are not hoarded by a lucky few but distributed throughout our society. Our goal should be to generate wealth but ensure that the proceeds of it are shared in a more socially and environmentally sustainable way.
And as the first industrial nation we need to react to this challenge if we are to mould it to our advantage.
Choices the government make now will ultimately determine whether we thrive in the coming fourth industrial age.
And when it comes to choices, this year we face perhaps the most important economic choice of my lifetime, with the EU referendum called for 23rd June.
In the short time between now and then, we have to take a fundamental and searching look at ourselves and realise that this decision is really a proxy for a long needed debate about our place in the world. And we need to be confident about our ability to fight d project our progressive democratic values in an increasingly volatile and authoritarian world.
We know that our continuing membership of the European Union brings jobs, growth and investment.
We are a proud trading nation with almost half of our exports going to EU countries – worth £227 billion last year to the UK economy.
From finance to manufacturing, companies establish themselves in Britain in the knowledge that they will have access to the European single market of 28 countries and half a billion potential customers.
And our EU membership brings considerable benefits to many of the small and medium sized businesses here today.
Figures reveal that nearly 110,000 small and medium sized businesses exported goods to the EU in 2014 and that’s even before you take into account our world-leading service sector – that is something which Brexit would put at risk.
I will be playing my part and I hope you will too. This isn’t just about the looming leadership election in the Conservative Party though you might be forgiven for thinking it is given the weekend press coverage. It’s about the future direction our country will take. With the Conservative Party machine sitting it out, we in the Labour Party will be crucial to winning a vote to remain in the EU and we will rise to this challenge.
Because our national identity is strengthened not diminished and our capacity to shape our future prosperity is enhanced not compromised by our EU membership.
Nothing will destabilise our economic prosperity and Britain’s place at the heart of the global economy more than a vote for isolationism and turning our back on the world which Brexit would signal. But we are living in volatile, unpredictable times, and we must not take the result for granted.
The decision we take at the ballot box in the months ahead will chart our economic fortunes for generations to come.
So I and my party will be doing everything we can to keep Britain in over the months ahead. And so should you.
You have a persuasive voice and an important case to make. As world-leading British businesses you have a voice. Make sure you use it.
To lay the solid foundations for our future prosperity and to prosper globally, we must embrace this spirit of openness through our society and economy, and the technological change and the opportunities it brings. We can only do this with a sense of optimism and confidence which a vote to remain will signal.
Thank you for listening.