Jonathan delivers his speech to the UK Hospitality Summer Conference
Jonathan delivers his speech to the UK Hospitality Summer Conference

Thank you, it is wonderful to have the chance to address you here today.

Can I start by thanking you, Kate. You and the team have been a huge source of help and guidance right from the very beginning when Keir asked me to take on the role of Shadow Business Secretary. Since then, UK Hospitality has always been on hand and your whole team are incredibly generous with their expertise and it is hugely appreciated.

Now I know a big focus for you is on promoting the long-term careers available in hospitality, not just the foundational roles. But I was particularly excited to receive this invitation because, like many, my first job was in hospitality. I was a waiter at the Chilton Lodge Country Club in County Durham. When I was younger I was actually very shy, but that experience, dealing with customers, working in a fast, changeable and sometimes stressful environment was a transformational experience. I don’t think I would be here doing this if I hadn’t had that grounding – and I am proud to tell you I can still silver serve, which I’m not sure is the case for many of the Business Secretaries I have shadowed!

Before I outline Labour’s vision for the economy and how I feel the hospitality industry can benefit from our plans I’d like to start by acknowledging the hard work the people in this room do, and how hard the last few years have been, and continue to be. You’ve been jumping from one crisis to another, Brexit, Covid and now the cost-of-living crisis.

The last few years have not been an easy time to run a business, or to work in hospitality. During the pandemic UK Hospitality kindly hosted lots of discussions, but I distinctly remember one call in December 2021. It was a scary time for lots of reasons but you will recall but there was a huge question mark over what the Government’s plans were going to be for a new wave of restrictions and the support to go alongside that.

And so we met with affected hospitality leaders. This particular call sticks in my mind because the conversation turned to the mental health of those trying to navigate new COVID rules. I was very much affected to see so vividly the impact this was having on business owners as people caused by the pressure of having to constantly adjust and change business models. Many talked about sleepless nights, the worry about their staff was overwhelming and a few felt they had little choice but to walk away from businesses they had built. The resilience people in this sector have shown is nothing short of incredible. So thank you.

Because you aren’t just businesses. What you offer is so much more. It’s dinner with an old friend. The coffee on the way to the station. A weekend away with your other half. The services you provide aren’t just important for our nation’s happiness. They are vital to our economy.

Hospitality is 3% of our economic output, employing millions of people. And I don’t need to tell you the impact you have on a place. In my own area the launch of the Stalybridge Food Festival has been a huge boost to our high street but also to the sense of community. In fact we’re basing our regeneration plans on what this sector provides to the area.

Too often politicians are guilty of thinking the economy is all hard hats, cars and new tech. But innovation and inspiration can be found on our high streets too. That’s why Labour respects and appreciates what we call the everyday economy. Because these are places people spend their hard-earned money, the services we value in our day to day lives.

Keir’s mission to have the highest level of sustained growth in the G7 won’t just be judged by us by looking at figures on a spreadsheet. It will be judged by how our high streets look and feel. By working people having more money at the end of the month to treat themselves and their families. By businesses thriving, investing and growing. That is our measure of success. But we won’t get there by accident. It requires a government on the pitch when it comes to what businesses need rather than a passive bystander crossing their fingers hoping for the best.

Labour does believe we need an active Industrial Strategy. That is why we have published one and committed to bringing back the Industrial Strategy Council on a statutory footing. Baking in long termism to the UK economy, ensuring firms have the policy certainty they need to invest. And our Industrial Strategy explicitly talks about the everyday economy because we recognise how vital that is to a successful country. You know that the government can’t fix everything, and it’s not the job of politicians to tell people how to run their business.

But what I know you do want is a partner in government, and ministers willing to listen and respond. That is the partnership approach Keir, Rachel and I want to take. Our commitment is to work with you to create the best total business environment possible. And I think, through the engagement we have had already, you can see the first signs of that.

That’s why Labour will work with you to reform our planning system to ensure businesses can grow and the built environment works for people and places. We will breathe life back into our high streets by cracking down on the things holding them back like anti-social behaviour and empty shops. And we will reform the apprenticeship levy to give businesses the flexibility they need to invest in the skills that are right for them and their communities.

But it isn’t just having access to the things you need like skills, premise and customers. We know you are particularly worried about the tax burden hospitality businesses face during such a difficult time for the sector. You will appreciate those commitments are hard to make in opposition, especially with the fiscal situation we will inherit. But I can assure you we are listening.

Certainty and stability are vital. And it has been completely absent under the Conservatives, who have managed to offer up more Chancellors than they have solutions to Britain’s challenges. The last few years have been marked by too much yo-yoing and last-minute emergency packages announced at the 11th hour. We understand you simply cannot run a business with tax policy varying from one budget to the next. Under Labour you will have the stable environment needed to plan. Our review of the business tax regime, looking at increasing certainty and investment, will include the hospitality sector.

I also want to pay particular attention today to the problem with business rates. Business rates are an outdated, archaic system that is holding back firms from opening new premises, making the changes they need to get cheaper energy bills, and stopping small firms from growing. That’s why changing business rates is such a priority for the next Labour government. And Labour will rebalance the burden between bricks and clicks ensuring online giants pay their fair share.

Obviously I can’t come here today and not talk about Brexit. And I want to be frank with you. Labour are not going to reopen the Brexit wounds of the past. I know this will frustrate many of you as some of the things your sector warned about have come to pass. We can’t debate it forever; we’ve got to focus on making the relationship better and improving the deal. I believe Labour can achieve that, by focusing on pragmatic, trade-based improvements not constitutional ones.

We’d pursue an SPS agreement – making it easier to move products between the UK and EU and ensuring British firms aren’t locked out of European markets. We would seek more flexibility mobile workforces and the recognition of professional qualifications. Labour will not return to freedom of movement. But government must play its role investing in skills to tackle shortages and reforming the Migration Advisory Committee to provide more timely updates on shortage occupations. Building a better Britain requires delivering a better Brexit and it is clear only Labour can do that.

There is no doubt the priority right now is energy costs. We are all hurting from higher energy bills, your customers have less to spend and your operating costs keep climbing. The only way to long term energy security and cheaper bills for good is through the switch to net zero. Labour knows firms need help with that.

My colleague Ed Miliband will be laying out in more detail next week Labour’s plans to make the UK a clean energy superpower by 2030. Doubling our onshore wind capacity, increasing our offshore wind capacity, and tripling solar power.

But it isn’t just about the huge progress we must make on energy generation. We have to ensure those technologies can be taken advantage of by firms of every size. As well as making sure everything from our planning regime, our business rates system and our grid capacity allows firms to make the changes they need.

I know the last few years have been hard and hope has been a bit hard to come by. But as Shadow Business Secretary I have the privilege of visiting almost any business in the country. I have seen how impressive we are when we get it right. The food producer cutting costs and carbon, the restaurant turning food waste into meals for those that need it, the cafe breathing life into a community, new customer experiences that our making our lives more enjoyable.

But I want us to get it right more often. We do have opportunities and economic strengths other countries envy. We can build a better Britain underpinned by a growing and fairer economy. But it requires change. And it could not be clearer after 13 years of poor performance we don’t need more of the same.

Only Labour has the energy and vision to deliver the new approach in government we all need. But no one has a monopoly on good ideas. When I say we want to work in partnership with you, it’s not positioning. It is a deep held belief that we have to work together to get the best outcomes. Public and private, business and worker, government and industry.

We won’t always agree but I can promise you will always have my attention. And I will always work with you to face our shared challenges. Labour knows how vital you are, and I hope having laid out the menu there is something on there you will like. But we can’t do it alone. We need your help to work on these challenges together. And I look forward to building that partnership over the months and years ahead, to build the better Britain we all deserve.

Thank you.

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