Rebecca Long-Bailey: Labour will not shy away from transforming people’s lives
Labour will work in partnership with business and trade unions to rebalance our economy so that it serves the many, not the few, writes Rebecca Long-Bailey
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is the engine that powers Britain. It can provide the tools to transform people’s lives and the business landscape for the better. But equally, if complacent, it can shatter communities and industries in the blink of an eye.
Deep structural problems have existed within our economy for a long time but as Brexit dominates the agenda, BEIS issues continue to be sidelined – exacerbating these problems.
The Institute for Public Policy Research’s commission on economic justice describes the ‘lived economy’ by saying that “the economy that ordinary households experience … is not that of national aggregates such as GDP. What most people observe is more direct: they see their own individual and family incomes, the ways in which jobs and job opportunities are changing, and the sense of prosperity or decline in their local community … for many people the economy does not appear to be working at all”.
And it is correct. Acute inequality, stagnating wages and insecurity at work have all become the norm.
The retail sector continues to lurch from crisis to crisis.
Thriving high streets were once the centre of communities, somewhere local people were proud of, but household names have recently struggled, closing stores and leaving hundreds of thousands out of a job.
It is clear there has been a failure by government to support one of the UK’s biggest sectors, and complacency in recognising that the changing nature of Britain’s shopping habits is not the only pressure businesses face. They are forced to operate in an environment of unfair business rates, stagnation in consumers’ disposable income, underinvestment in towns and cities, and regressive transport policies.
As such, I continue to implore government to urgently exercise the levers necessary to revitalise our high streets, such as initiating business rates reform.
I am also critical of government attempts to tackle the excessive corporate culture found in some boardrooms that puts the short-term interests of shareholders before workers and other stakeholders.
Corporate scandals such as the collapse of Carillion and BHS show how skewed corporate culture has become in some circles, often leaving supply chain businesses, pension funds and workers exposed to risk.
The prime minister’s repeated assurances to reform corporate governance ended up being nothing but re-announced half-baked, rehashed policies that do nothing to tackle those corporate cowboys who operate outside of the norms of what should be a civilised and fair business environment.
The privatisation of our most vital services also faces criticism.
Utility bills continue to spiral. Many water and energy companies have put profit before consumer satisfaction for too long, and have not done enough to reduce leaks or respond to climate change. This has led Labour to set out bold plans which ensure consumers, investment, jobs and climate change are rightfully centre stage in these industries, rather than the dividends of shareholders.
What is worse, however, is that against this dysfunctional backdrop, businesses and workers now face crippling uncertainty caused by the government’s handling of Brexit. Even as businesses and trade unions raise their heads above the parapet to outline the detriment a bad or no-deal Brexit could cause, they are met with indignation from some government quarters, open arms and apologies from another, and a raft of dubious no-deal technical notes.
Over the coming months I will continue to request that government recognises and actions the concerns of businesses and trade unions, putting jobs and the economy first as negotiations progress.
I am also clear that our future must be determined by a comprehensive and properly resourced industrial strategy as it’s the only way to create a fair and balanced economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout all of the UK, not just in London and the south-east.
Unlike the Conservatives, whose industrial strategy was disappointing and under-resourced, Labour will not shy away from making full use of all available policy levers, working in partnership with business and trade unions to rebalance our economy so that it serves the many, not just the few.
Alongside Labour’s industrial strategy, our national transformation fund – £250bn of lending by our new national investment bank and a network of regional development banks – will transform our economy and deliver one million good jobs over the course of the parliament.
BEIS is the engine that powers Britain, in its hands lies our future. Labour recognises this, but it seems the government has some catching up to do.
Rebecca Long-Bailey is Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, and shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy