POLITICS

Ed Miliband Tries To Woo Business Leaders

03/07/2014 14:24 BST | Updated 03/07/2014 14:59 BST
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
File photo dated 01/05/2014 of Labour leader Ed Miliband, as Labour will establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission if it returns to power, with the aim of ending a culture of "chronic short-termism" which Ed Miliband believes has left the UK lagging behind in areas like power generation, communications and transport links.

Ed Miliband has stepped up Labour's efforts to woo business support by setting out his vision of a policy platform designed to deliver "inclusive prosperity" for Britain.

Speaking to a business audience in London, the Labour leader promised a National Infrastructure Commission to improve decision-making on major projects, "gold standard" vocational qualifications to provide business with well-trained staff, secure funding for science and innovation and reform of the banking and energy markets to help small companies.

Miliband's pitch came amid continued reports of behind-the-scenes wrangling over Labour's programme for next year's general election, with policy chief Jon Cruddas reported to have said that the leader has not "reconciled" different camps within the party.

The Labour leader won applause from business people at the Policy Network conference by rejecting a call from the party's biggest financial backer - the trade union Unite - to match the Conservative promise of an in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership after the 2015 poll.

"I am absolutely convinced that our future lies in the EU," said Miliband, adding: "I am not going to follow others in saying that we should commit to spending the next three years focusing on an EU referendum in 2017... It is not the priority for the country."

He took a swipe at David Cameron - who was last week overwhelmingly defeated in his bid to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker being chosen president of the European Commission - by saying Britain could secure EU reform "by building alliances, not burning them".

Labour has made a concerted bid over recent weeks to shake off the "anti-business" tag attached to it by opponents, adopting proposals for the devolution of £30 billion of spending to local authorities to promote regional growth, and accepting the recommendation of former Olympics supremo Sir John Armitt for a National Infrastructure Commission to identify major projects in areas like power generation, transport, flood defences and communications which the UK will need over the coming 25-30 years to remain internationally competitive.

Sir John - who today published draft legislation to establish the Commission - said in a report for Labour last year that it would "make the current tendency for policy drift more difficult to sustain and mean that when a Government does change course, this is only done on the basis of sound evidence".

Miliband said: "I am calling on the other political parties to join us in accepting his recommendation. Because agreement is vital to delivering the long-term infrastructure we need."

The Labour leader sought to allay fears of a tax-and-spend splurge if he wins power by insisting that his approach will involve "big reforms, not big spending".

He took on critics who argue that his warnings of a "cost-of-living crisis" facing British households are losing their force as recovery takes hold, insisting that the recession had revealed fundamental problems in the economy which successive governments had failed to tackle over recent decades.

"The causes of the discontent we see now began before the recession, and solutions won't come from recovery alone," he said.

"The challenge we face is to tackle these long-standing, deep-seated problems. That is the central mission I see for the Government I want to lead in 10 months' time.

"So we can build a prosperity, in which all can share fairly, right across Britain. To create the high-paying, high-skilled jobs that are central to improving the condition of Britain."

He told his audience: "The only way we can realise this mission is through your success. The great, dynamic businesses of our country, creating the jobs and making the profits, competing... in the race to the top for high wages and high skills, not a race to the bottom, addressing the long-standing productivity and competitiveness challenges facing our country. So we can pay our way in the world.

"My argument too is we will succeed in this race not by carrying on as we are, or with big spending by Government, but with big reform - reform of the way Government works and reform of the way markets work too."

Miliband acknowledged that much of the business community feels politicians show "insufficient appreciation" for what they do for the country, and conceded that Labour would inevitably have "differences" with them on policy.

But he added: "There is no way for our country to succeed without you - businesses big and small - succeeding."