Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has hit back at claims he is against UK business, calling it “nonsense” as he promised to work with firms to boost the UK economy.
Corbyn took to the stage at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), promising a “record investment blitz” to improve UK broadband, transport and education.
He also said he was “passionate” about small start-ups and promised them better access to finance through a new business development agency if Labour wins the election next month.
His speech came less than an hour after the CBI’s director-general Carolyn Fairbairn warned in her speech that Labour’s recent pledge to nationalise part of BT had sent a “chill through boardrooms.”
The business chief had also warned on Sunday Labour’s plans, which also include nationalising rail, mail and energy firms, could “crack the foundations of the economy.”
Corbyn said he was “not making any apologies” for his public ownership plans, saying it was “the very opposite” of an attack on the economy’s foundations.
Business leaders’ firms, consumers and workers had all been failed by “rip-off energy bills and very poor rail and bus services” across the country, Corbyn said.
Corbyn said: “It’s not anti-business to be against poverty. It’s not anti-business to say the largest corporations should pay taxes just as small companies do. It’s not anti-business to want prosperity in every part of our country, not only in financial centres of the City of London.”
A Labour government would mean “more investment than you’ve ever dreamt of, the best-educated workforce you could ever have hoped for,” he added.
He also set out plans for 320,000 apprenticeships within a year of launching a new “climate apprenticeship programme” as part of the party’s so-called green new deal.
It would train engineers, technicians and construction workers “to transition to a green economy,” helping to avert a “climate breakdown” for the sake of future generations.
Other pledges included business rates reform, tackling late payments and a previously announced plan for a National Education Service, with “free education as a right to all throughout life” to retrain workers.
His party’s plans for a renegotiated Brexit deal and second referendum meant the “certainty” of being in a customs union and access to the single market, he added.
He vowed to make people at the top “pay their fair share” and end “tax tricks,” but said he understood firms’ caution about some of his party’s proposals.
But Fairbairn warned Labour’s “false instincts for mass nationalisations” and handing part of companies’ shares to workers and the exchequer would see pensioners and savers foot the bill.
In a statement released shortly after Corbyn’s speech, Fairbairn added that some of Corbyn’s plans do “little more than frighten off investors from backing the UK.”
Fairbairn said: “It’s time to see Labour open the door to real and lasting partnership with business, not stick with outdated ideologies that would close it in their face.
“The challenge is not what Labour want to achieve, it’s how. Firms share many of the same ambitions, on skills, climate change, delivering high paid jobs and making sure that the proceeds of growth are felt across the country – but those challenges need a joint response.”