The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, on 3 November 2023.
Thank you, Andrew.
It’s such a pleasure to be here in such magnificent surroundings.
And a privilege to have the opportunity to share our plans for growth with you.
This is not the first Chamber of Commerce speech I’ve made this year.
But it is the first time I’ve addressed the reigning UK Chamber of the year.
So before I go any further – I’d like to congratulate you all on that.
Because it’s no exaggeration to say that Labour’s ambitions for government, our most important mission.
To get Britain building again.
Grow our way out of the suffocating cost-of-living crisis.
Will depend on your future success.
Now, before you pulled up that fantastic palatial drive, some of you may have travelled here today along the A1, a road that is absolutely critical to doing business in this region – indeed for the whole the east side of England.
But, as many of you will know, a little further up from here, between Morpeth and Ellington.
There’s a stretch of the A1 that the Prime Minister has recently promised to upgrade. But there’s a catch. Because he announced he would upgrade it in 2020, when he was Chancellor.
Just like Theresa May’s Government did in 2017. Just like David Cameron did in 2014. Just like the Conservative manifesto promised in 2010.
It’s a metaphor for how our country’s been run for the past thirteen years. The cameras get called, the press releases written.
All smiles for the photos, and then it’s back to Westminster. Job done. Rinse and repeat.
It’s a story you see right across Britain.
Infrastructure projects – some with billions already committed. Businesses planning around them. Strategies – developed in rooms like this.
But the projects and investment get stuck. Blocked, by objections, consultations, legal challenges, ballooning costs. Delays, delays, delays.
Until in the end, it’s easier just to pack up and move on.
We all know about HS2, a project the Conservatives couldn’t get built, even at the cost of £400 million per mile.
That’s the most expensive railway in the world – ever.
And I’m afraid to say that all the hallmarks of that project: the waste, the stagnation, the short-term sticking plaster politics. An inability to roll our sleeves up, and get things done that will actually grow our economy. Can be seen right across the country.
I mean – right now, the number of businesses going under has soared to its highest level in years.
And as you will all appreciate, every one is a personal tragedy.
An ambition, a dream, an investment in a better future. Gone.
Now I’m not here today to hit you over the head about this.
You can see the country just as clearly as me.
But next week is the King’s Speech. And we can already see that it will only bring more of the same.
A manifesto for the 14th year of Tory failure. And the starting gun fired on the next general election.
A choice, between a Conservative Party with no plan for the future. Hurtling down the only high-speed project it’s ever managed to build: the highway to British decline.
Or the Labour alternative. A party that understands the potential that lies in regions like this. That has a plan to grow every corner of this country.
Will work with you to get the North East building again.
Get our future back, with a decade of national renewal.
Because mark my words, Britain needs this King’s Speech to kickstart a big build.
We need to focus on the real problems that face the businesses and communities of this region.
That’s why a Labour King’s speech would rip up the red tape in our planning system that stops us building the infrastructure you need.
Would establish a new generation of technical colleges – a plan for the higher skills you need.
And would bring forward a modern industrial strategy. Work hand in glove with the private sector. Invest in the potential of regions like this. And win the race for the jobs of the future.
That is the job of government as I see it.
We have to provide the businesses, communities and people of this nation, with the conditions to succeed.
A fundamental deal.
That we serve the country, while you drive it forward.
The Tories can’t do this. Rishi Sunak is too weak to stand up to the blockers on his backbenches. Too haunted by the ghosts of Conservative imagination to see the country’s problems as you see them.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I want to set out exactly how our plan would benefit your business.
And grow the economy of this proud region in three steps.
Step one, we will get the North East building again.
We will take on the blockers that hold a veto over British aspiration.
We will build one and a half million homes right across our Britain. With opportunities for first time buyers here in the North East.
New infrastructure to support businesses, families and communities to grow. Roads, warehouses, grid connections, labs – all built quicker and cheaper.
And with all that – a prize for your business. A path to a stronger skills base, a happier workforce, more dynamism, more demand, more growth.
I mean – let me just give you a couple of examples.
The Thames Tunnel in East London. A project with a planning application thirty times longer than the complete works of Shakespeare. Sixty thousand pages.
£800 million worth of taxpayers money spent without even breaking ground.
Or take Sizewell C. A next generation nuclear power station in Suffolk. A £20bn project of national importance. Vital for British energy, security and independence.
This one had forty-thousand pages of its planning application devoted to data on the environment.
And yet it’s been held up in the courts on account of a ‘failure to assess the environmental impact’.
I could go on and on and on. The examples are countless. But as a country we can’t afford to go on. Not like this.
Because the challenges this inertia creates for businesses and communities like yours, they’re enormous.
It’s why our roads are so congested compared to other countries.
Why millions are denied the security of home ownership.
Why you can’t take up the opportunity of clean British energy.
The cheaper bills that would reduce your cost base and protect us from the whims of tyrants like Putin.
And yet, back in the 50s and 60s, we built the backbone of our entire motorway system, in less time than it’s taken to talk about the turning of that stretch of the A1 into a dual carriageway.
The national grid was completed in about eight years. Less time than it takes some entrepreneurs to get a grid connection, today.
But you don’t even have to go back that far.
The last Labour Government delivered High Speed One on time and under budget.
So I have no time for Tory excuses – politics is about choices.
Do you face up to tough decisions, or do you duck them? That’s always been the test.
So if you take only one thing away from here today.
Let it be this. Wherever we find barriers to British success – we will bulldoze through them.
New development corporations, new planning regimes for national infrastructure.
Consequences for councils that drag their feet.
Reforms to judicial review.
Whatever it takes – we will find a way.
No stone unturned. No detail overlooked. No fight ducked.
Step two – a new direction for skills.
Because a future must be trained as well as built.
And the generation of young people that sacrificed so much during the pandemic – their potential must be backed.
Seriously – the cost of inaction on this cannot be overstated.
£120bn worth of economic output could be lost by 2030 if the needs of businesses are not met.
So we will transform our further education system. With Technical Excellence Colleges. Colleges that will have a stronger link to their local economies.
More connections to Local Skills Improvement plans.
Universities, businesses, rooms like this, all around the table and setting the direction.
And in doing so, grounding our education system more firmly, not just in young peoples’ aspirations, but also in the pride, the pull on the badge of the shirt.
The ambition you feel, when building a lasting legacy for your community.
So here in the North East, for example it could mean Technical Excellence Colleges that specialise in construction, health and social care, the clean energy revolution we want to see up and down the East Coast.
Welders in the Tees Valley – I know there’s a skills shortage for precision welders here.
And I’ve seen that in the Local Skills Improvement plan this Chamber wrote.
I know you don’t want that plan gathering dust.
You want it to drive the courses delivered at your local FE colleges.
And that is exactly what we will guarantee.
Because we want to end the years of businesses feeling hopeless about missing skills. Give you the tools to do something about it.
You should have more say over how you invest in your workforce.
And at the moment – as you well know – the Apprenticeship Levy simply isn’t flexible enough.
Your hands are tied.
Unable to deliver the full breadth of skills that you need.
So we’d transform it into a new Growth and Skills Levy.
Giving you more power over the training your money can buy.
But it’s not just on you.
Government has to step up as well.
Too many young people are leaving education without basic skills…
Maths, digital skills, communication and teamwork.
Skills we know every business needs.
So Labour would deliver higher standards in our schools.
Every child taught by expert teachers…
A broader curriculum.
Real world maths from an early stage.
Preparing the next generation.
To make sure that they are ready for work and ready for life.
That’s what ending the tax breaks on Private Schools will deliver.
Opportunity for all.
Skills for business.
Growth for the nation.
Finally – step three.
A modern industrial strategy. On a statutory footing.
Free from the whims and wreckage of Westminster.
An emblem of our determination to move away from the stand-aside state that fails to set direction.
If you go to the government website to find out about their industrial strategy.
Scratched across the top is one word.
I kid you not, ‘archived’.
Doesn’t that just tell you everything?
They think Britain’s days of high growth are over. But they’re not.
Labour will get Britain growing again.
Bring back industrial strategy.
Provide the institution, the incentives and above all, the stability you need to invest in our future.
Because in a world as riven with insecurity as ours, with challenges like climate change.
Technologies like artificial intelligence. Scientific advances like gene editing. Constantly overturning the economic apple-cart.
You need a government that gets involved. That rolls up it sleeves.
That offers the hand of partnership in pursuit of the national interest.
With clear fiscal rules – sound and followed rigorously.
A British jobs bonus that will attract new investment to our industrial heartlands.
Relight the fire of renewal in communities like this.
And a new national wealth fund – that will stand with business.
Work together to invest in the crucial infrastructure the North East desperately needs.
The battery gigafactories that will protect electric car-manufacturing in Sunderland.
The hydrogen and carbon capture technology that can provide an industrial future for Teesside.
And the ports that can finally handle large industrial parts. So the East Coast can lead the world in offshore wind.
This is what the King’s speech should be about.
A national mission to get Britain building again. And grow our country from the grassroots.
Because Britain needs a new business model.
And, you will know, changing a business model is hard. But this is our plan.
A plan to expand the country’s productive capabilities. But at the same time, to change who benefits.
A Britain where growth comes from regions like this.
A Britian where growth serves regions like this.
With infrastructure – built more quickly.
Young people’s potential – backed.
The jobs of the future in your town.
The backbone of this country, once again, powering us forward towards national renewal.
A Britain with its future back.