Automation also sat high on Corbyn’s agenda. His speech identified automated technologies as “a threat” to workers, and proposed a so-called “robot tax” to incentivise greater investment in human workforces among employers. Labour would use the money to retrain workers who had lost jobs to automated machines, Corbyn said.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said the Labour leader was “absolutely right” to place a spotlight on the impact automation would have on British jobs, particularly in retail
“The ‘people agenda’ is front and centre of the retail industry,” she said.
“As the industry undergoes structural change, we expect to see the number of jobs in retail fall and the nature of them to change. It is essential that the government works with the retail industry – Britain’s biggest private sector employer – to focus on building the skills and jobs of the future.”
The Labour Party may still struggle to win over the support of Britain’s growing self-employed workforce.
Speaking for the self-employed, IPSE CEO Chris Bryce flagged the absence of any reference to self-employed workers in Corbyn’s speech, to either their contribution or the challenges faced.
“In a speech as broad and extensive as Corbyn’s, we would have hoped he could have directly mentioned the value of the UK’s booming 4.8 million-strong self-employed workforce,” he said.
Bryce commended plans for greater education and training in the proposed National Education Service, but warned “more immediate concerns” needed addressing.
He added: “As it stands, if you are self-employed, training outside your profession isn’t tax-deductible as it is for employees. In our rapidly-evolving economy, this must change so the self-employed workforce can be given the tools to continue driving the UK’s growth, flexibility and competitiveness.”
Corbyn’s continued commitment to investment, greater nationalisation and corporation tax rises drew strongly-worded responses from several corners of British business.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), criticised Labour policy as “fantasy economics”, where business owners of all sizes want to see “pragmatism, realism and economic competence” at a time of uncertainty. He warned that Corbyn had “demonised” business instead of encouraging wealth creation and investment in the economy.
“This needs to happen in partnership with business, not by demonising it,” he added.
Meanwhile, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), noted the “few warm words” spoken by Corbyn to business. “Repeated rhetoric on the sins of a handful of businesses does little to reassure anxious entrepreneurs and investors about the UK’s future as a great place to do business,” she warned.
“The vast majority of UK firms are dedicated to creating great jobs, and products and services that improve people’s lives. This must be recognised”
Fairbairn also welcomed Corbyn’s commitment to infrastructure investment and a Brexit policy based on a transitional exit.
The Labour leader’s speech also failed to win over Stephen Martin, head of the Institute of Directors (IoD), who claimed Corbyn remained reluctant to embrace the small business community.
“There was not one positive thing said about the millions of companies, large and small, that form the bedrock of our economy,” he said. “It would be very worrying if the leader of the opposition really saw nothing positive in Britain’s business community.”
While Corbyn’s provocative language has not been well received by big business, the party’s position on Brexit and the single market points to a genuine pro-business outlook.
Corbyn’s party has also started offering solutions to the rapidly changing world of work. In acknowledging the dangers (and potential) of automation, improving national infrastructure and investing in the workforce of the future, small business owners seem to have been brought more closely into Labour’s plans.
Labour shadow small business minister talks up US-style strategy
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