Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has promised to “restore trust” with business as she accused the government of taking a “cavalier” approach to the public finances during the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking to Labour’s virtual annual conference, Ms Dodds set out the party’s proposals for a business rebuilding programme to stave off the threat of mass company failures when emergency loans come due for repayment next year.
She accused the government of wasting “enormous amounts of public money” on failed schemes to tackle Covid, such as a £130m contract with a Conservative donor for testing kits that were unsafe and £150m on facemarks that could not be used by NHS staff.
And she said chancellor Rishi Sunak was now planning to hand over £2.6bn in job retention bonuses to businesses, many of which were planning to keep furloughed staff in work anyway.
Ms Dodds took a swipe at Mr Sunak’s as a Goldman Sachs investment banker, comparing it to her own political record of fighting money laundering and tax evasion.
“While the chancellor was profiting from a financial system that took huge risks and then passed them onto ordinary people, I helped to rein it in,” she said.
“As chancellor, I would ensure that public money was always spent wisely. Targeted where it’s needed most. Not splurged where it isn’t.”
Ms Dodds called on the government to give its backing to Labour’s proposals for a targeted extension of the furlough scheme in sectors worst hit by the pandemic and state-backed training for workers unable to go back full-time.
And she called for investment in green jobs and environmental innovation, saying “we can no longer accept public funds paying for projects that make the shift to net zero harder”.
She drew on her own experience as the child of a small businessman father as she spoke of the need to rebuild trust, in terms which will be seen by some as an attempt to draw a line under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour.
“We must work together to rebuild businesses,” said Ms Dodds.
“That needs real partnership – and trust - between government and businesses.
“Businesses who’ve had to watch our global reputation being trashed, as the Conservatives threaten to break international law. Businesses despairing at the contrast between the UK government’s limited ambitions, and the green investment being undertaken in Germany, France and beyond.
“As chancellor, I would restore that trust with business. Because I understand what a critical role business plays in creating jobs and supporting livelihoods across the country
“I’ve talked to so many business owners who can feel a lifetime of hard work slipping through their fingers.
“My father was a small businessman; an accountant who worked a six-day week for decades. His staff were more like friends than employees. I know how awful he would feel if he were in the shoes of so many business owners right now.“