More than 120 business leaders throw support behind Labour to help UK 'break free' from 'decade of economic stagnation'

27 May 2024, 23:50 | Updated: 28 May 2024, 06:39

More than 120 business leaders throw support behind Labour to help UK 'break free' from 'decade of economic stagnation'
More than 120 business leaders throw support behind Labour to help UK 'break free' from 'decade of economic stagnation'. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

More than 120 business leaders have backed Labour to be the 'party of change' to help the UK 'break free' from a decade of economic stagnation when the nation heads to the polls on July 4.

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In an open letter 121 senior executives who have signed the letter in a personal capacity, said “it is time for a change” after the British economy had “been beset by instability, stagnation, and a lack of long-term focus.”

The signatories said the country needed a “new outlook” and the upcoming General Election offered “the chance to change the country”.

The business leaders – including the Founder of Iceland Sir Malcolm Walker, Chair of Ancient+Brave and Tortilla Mexican Grill Emma Woods, former chief executive of Aston Martin and Nissan Andy Palmer, former CEO of Heathrow John Holland-Kay, CEO of Koru Kids Rachel Carrell – said the Labour Party “has shown it has changed and wants to work with business to achieve the UK’s full economic potential.”

The letter provides another headache for Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives who have been vying with Labour to win the endorsement of businesses behind the scenes for months. Past Tory campaigns have traditionally relied on support from business leaders to underline their economic credentials.

Sir Keir Starmer (left) meets Tom Rutland, the Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham in Lancing, West Sussex, Monday
Sir Keir Starmer (left) meets Tom Rutland, the Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham in Lancing, West Sussex, Monday. Picture: Alamy

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The letter published in The Times on Monday read: "We, as leaders and investors in British business, believe that it is time for a change. For too long now, our economy has been beset by instability, stagnation, and a lack of long-term focus.

"The United Kingdom has the potential to be one of the strongest economies in the world. A lack of political stability and the absence of consistent economic strategy has held it back. The country has been denied the skills and infrastructure it needs to flourish.

"We are looking for a government that will partner fiscal discipline with a long-term growth strategy, working in partnership with the private sector to drive innovation and investment to build digital and physical capital and fix our skills system. This is the only way to put us on track for sustained productivity growth.

"Labour has shown it has changed and wants to work with business to achieve the UK’s full economic potential. We should now give it the chance to change the country and lead Britain into the future. We are in urgent need of a new outlook to break free from the stagnation of the last decade and we hope by taking this public stand we might persuade others of that need too."

The letter will provide a boost to the party's campaign ahead of Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves' first major election speech on Tuesday where she is expected to promise that a Labour government will be both pro-business and pro-worker.

Ms Reeves is expected to tell business leaders that, having brought business back to Labour, the party can now "bring growth back to Britain".

She will say: "By bringing business back to Britain we can deliver a better future for working people."

Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, who owns The Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, has singed the letter backing Labour
Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, who owns The Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, has singed the letter backing Labour. Picture: Alamy

Under Sir Keir Starmer, Labour has tried to woo businesses as a way of demonstrating it can be trusted with the economy.

Those efforts have brought success, with business attendance at recent party conferences higher than under Jeremy Corbyn and wealthy businessmen donating more to Labour's war chest.

But in her speech on Tuesday, former Bank of England analyst Ms Reeves is expected to stress the need for a partnership with business, government and workers.

She will say Labour offers "a government that is pro-worker and pro-business, in the knowledge that each depends upon the success of the other".

Her remarks come after Labour faced a backlash over an apparent rebranding of its "New Deal for Workers", with Britain's largest trade union Unite warning that the party must "stick to its guns" on workers' rights.

Labour insisted it had not watered down its commitments, adding the proposals had followed agreement with the unions. The Conservatives have argued that Labour's proposals would cost jobs and place unnecessary burdens on businesses, but the opposition have claimed good businesses will welcome the plans.

Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves
Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves. Picture: Alamy

Ms Reeves is also expected to stress Labour's commitment to economic stability, a key message of the campaign, and urge voters to "pass judgment on 14 years of economic chaos and decline under the Conservatives".

Her speech is the second major intervention from Labour of the week, following Sir Keir Starmer's address on Monday, in which he promised to stand up for working people.

Treasury Chief Secretary Laura Trott said Labour would "tie businesses in red tape".

"The bosses of Asda, Marks and Spencer, Currys and the Confederation of British Industry have all warned that Labour's French-style union laws risk damaging the economy, costing jobs," she said.

"Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have a clear plan that businesses can rely on.

"We took the bold action to deliver the biggest business tax cut in modern history. Labour would tie businesses in red tape and raise taxes by £2,094 on hardworking families."

SNP Westminster economy spokesman Drew Hendry said: "The latest speech by Rachel Reeves cynically ignore the most fundamental reason for the economic decline of the United Kingdom - Britain is broken and Brexit broke it."

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