In one of his final duties as Shadow Business Secretary, John spoke to the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in September 2011 about the challenges facing businesses in the years ahead. He also spoke in more detail about our argument for the ‘good business’, which formed the centrepiece of Ed Miliband’s leader’s speech.
The point about good and bad business – producers and predators – was very much based on the work John had been doing over the previous year. John has been promoting the idea of the ‘good business’ in speeches and articles for the last few months. He argued that the lasting success of the UK economy will depend on the spread of the “good company” – profitable businesses and corporations which add value both to the economy and to society by being good at what they do, not exclusively focused on the bottom line.
See below for a copy of John’s speech:
Last week, in Birmingham, Vince Cable gave the Lib Dems what’s been described as the most depressing speech by a Cabinet minister in modern political history.
I haven’t come to Liverpool to spread doom and gloom.
You’re not Lib Dems. You haven’t come here to wallow in it.
There’s no easy way forward.
The deficit must be dealt with.
World markets are in turmoil.
The world we face is so fiercely competitive it will be harder than ever before to pay our way and build a better future for young people.
But we know there is a way forward for Britain and its families.
But first I have got a message for Vince Cable and the rest of the Tory-led Government.
If you’re depressed, stop making things worse.
Stop saying you will tax the banks and get them lending.
When you know you’re cutting their taxes and they’re cutting their lending.
You tripled university fees, scrapped the RDAs, slashed support for business. And you haven’t even paid out a penny from the Regional Growth Fund, 14 months since you launched it.
You cut too far and too fast.
Turned the entire department of growth into the department of stagnation.
No wonder you’re depressed.
Last week you said that 50 companies are going to get a hot line to ministers.
It’s not 50 companies who need a hot line to ministers.
It’s the entire British economy!
I went to Bombardier in Derby. I asked three young apprentices about their future.
One said “I want to go as far as I can. Mr Walton” – that’s Colin Walton the MD – “Mr Walton used to be an apprentice once.”
That was the promise of Britain.
Hard work taking you as far as your talent would allow.
Each generation doing better than their parents.
But Philip Hammond gave the Thameslink contract to Germany.
Those young ambitions hang by a thread.
You may be wondering why ministers won’t reopen the contract?
It’s not because of the finer points of EU competition law.
It’s because, in their heart of hearts, they think government should just stand by and watch.
Stand by and watch while wages fall, jobs go, and companies suffer.
But I tell you, Conference, in difficult times governments can’t just stand by and watch.
Governments can shape the choices companies make; they can encourage investment in critical parts of the economy; they can use procurement to foster skills, innovation and new markets; they can create the transparency that brings fair pay.
Governments can shape markets by the competition rules they set, the institutions they create for finance research and technology – and by their vision for the future.
Conference, we can make the changes Britain needs; to build a different and stronger economy; in which good companies grow; and rewards are fairly shared.
If you’ve got a business idea; you work all hours; you make a go of it; make a million; we’ll cheer you all the way.
But we won’t if you’re the director of a failing company who takes a million you don’t deserve.
It’s not our job to run companies, but what Government does makes a difference to the way business leaders run their companies.
In the economy we want, we will say the company that invests long-term is better for Britain than the one that just wants a quick buck.
We will say the company with fair pay at every level is better for Britain than one with obscene rewards at the top and poverty pay at the bottom
We will say the company that innovates is better for Britain than the company that sits back and exploits its monopoly.
We will say the company that trains is better for Britain than one that just says someone else could do your job for less.
These are the choices the best companies in Britain are already making.
But some are not.
Look at all the scams – from payment protection insurance to fuel bills no one understands, from hidden credit card charges to insurance referrals.
They’ve all got one thing in common.
There are people at the top who knew it was wrong.
But they didn’t think it was their responsibility to stop it.
But when prices are rising and wages are falling people can’t afford to be ripped off. It’s got to stop.
So I’ve asked former Chief Executive of the National Consumer Council, Ed Mayo, to lead our investigation into how we can end the corporate cultures that con consumers.
Conference, business has real concern about regulation. And the worst is regulation that holds good companies back, but doesn’t hinder the bad.
So be very clear.
We’ll tackle the bad.
We’ll back the good.
Griffon Hoverworks in my Southampton constituency sells the world’s best hovercraft – a British invention – to 40 countries around the world.
There are thousands of British companies like that.
In engineering, and in film, theatre and the arts;
In life sciences and in architecture;
In advanced manufacturing and in computer games;
In fashion and in law and in IT;
In finance yes, and green technologies.
Companies run by people as bright and as inventive as any British people have ever been.
But there are not enough of them.
They aren’t big enough.
And too often they get taken over before they grow.
We will only pay our way in the world if those companies grow and prosper.
And we will only pay our way if the world’s biggest companies also want to have a stake in Britain’s future.
They don’t want government telling them how to run their business. But they don’t want government just to stand by and watch either.
Ministers wasted a year on a growth plan so useless it’s already being re-written.
So I’ll tell you what they should do now.
Back Ed Balls’ five point plan for economic growth.
Cut VAT and get the economy moving.
Tax bank bonuses to build houses, create jobs for young people and back fast growing small business.
Don’t stand by and watch.
Do it now.
Small businesses are hurting. If you can’t get banks lending, don’t just stand by and watch. Get the Green Investment Bank going now, reform the banks the public owns, and like Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and me, look at the case for a national investment bank.
Listen to the CBI and unlock investment in greening and renewing the infrastructure for a new economy.
Don’t just stand by and watch.
Do it now.
Get business round the table and agree where Britain will take on the world. Show how we will deliver the technologies, the capabilities, the skills to do it. Give them the confidence to invest.
Don’t just stand by and watch.
Do it now.
Back Labour’s plans to cap fees and then tell every university in every region to concentrate on getting skills, technology and research to British business.
And Vince – one more thing, when you celebrated the one bit of really good news all year – the investments in Nissan, BMW and JLR – didn’t you notice that in every one trade unions were full partners in that success; why not say that instead of just union bashing?
Conference, when Ed Miliband asked me and the Shadow Business Team – Gareth, Gordon, Nia, Ian, Chi, Chuka, Tony and Wilf – he said get out and listen to thousands of businesses across Britain.
Everything I’ve said today comes from things British business has said to us.
From oil in Aberdeen to renewables in Wrexham.
Chambers of Commerce in Norwich to car makers in Sunderland.
Manufacturers in Leeds to bioscience in London.
Hi-tech start-ups in Cambridge to banks in Birmingham.
And it’s because of what they told us, not what we told them, that I can tell you that British business, working with Labour, can build a better future for Britain, can build a country where the promise of Britain is honoured once more.