Jonathan speaking at Make UK
Jonathan speaking at Make UK's National Manufacturing Conference

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, Tuesday 27 February 2024.


Thank you Tracy.

When people ask what the relationship between business and a Labour government will be,

I point them to the excellent work and relationships that already exist with our Labour mayors which is great to see.



It is always good to be at this Conference,

And it is wonderful to be invited back to address you.

To be honest with 11 business secretaries in 11 years I don’t imagine you do many repeat bookings…


I hope that in the years we have gotten to know each other,

I have shown myself to be a true friend of manufacturing.


That I understand it, support it, and – crucially – that I am proud of it.


And as I have said to you before a large part of that is the significant manufacturing presence in my own constituency, through companies like Stepan, the Hyde Group, Smurfit Kappa, and Pilgrim Food Masters.



And I want to thank you for the time you have given me:

For the expertise and policy advice;

For bringing together key sectors on specific challenges;

And, of course, for showing me around some fantastic businesses.


I could not ask for a better relationship than the one I have with Stephen and Make UK.


Now, I say this at the beginning because I know it still frustrates a lot of you,

As it frustrates me.


That some of the think tanks and commentators lazily dismiss this sector as being of the past and not relevant to a modern economy.


They’re wrong.

And I know they are wrong –

This sector is integral to the UK, and its importance will only grow.


And that isn’t just my view;

It’s held throughout the Labour Party.


From our affiliated unions – who many of you in this room work closely with,

To the Leader of the Labour Party,

In fact, you may have even heard Keir mention once or twice, that his dad was a toolmaker…


But we know what this sector does for our constituents, our communities, and our families – and that’s important.

And I recognise your call today for the manufacturing sector to grow as a percentage of GDP.

I believe that ambition is right.


It doesn’t mean we ignore the service sector – of course we are proud of that too.


But when I look around the world,

I see other countries stealing a march on us.

Showing more ambition, with a better understanding the new era we live in.

And I don’t understand why that isn’t recognised more in the UK.



A thriving and successful manufacturing base is central to improving our growth and productivity performance,

It’s key to net zero,

it’s also key to what used to be called ‘levelling up’.

And the last few years have shown it is key to national security.



What I want to talk to you about today, is how we’re going to do that –

What that means in practice for manufacturing sectors

And how we need to do even more together in future, to make sure we get it right.



It starts with the number one thing businesses ask for, stability.


Something which has been sorely lacking over the last few years.


When I talk to people from around the world, this is also what they tell me.


Too many changes of policy.


No long-term consistency.


And some moments – such as the Liz Truss mini-budget – intensely damaging and embarrassing.


But this isn’t how it has to be –

That isn’t how you run your business –

And it need not be how our country is run.


Labour has heard your calls for stability loud and clear.

When I first spoke at this conference two years ago I promised you an industrial strategy.


And that is what we have delivered – one that is built to last.

We will put into law an Industrial Strategy Council, so it’s a real independent institution – not a Government committee.

It’ll bring business, government and trade unions together to work on the issues we are running out of time to get right,

With sector deals, drawn up with industry, to give you the coordination and consistency you need.


You can already read our plans for automotive and life sciences sectors, showing you exactly what we intend to do.


My promise to you is an industrial strategy that is more than a PDF


It will be something the whole Government are signed up too

And will act as a guiding principle in delivering the mission-led Government Keir Starmer has outlined


And Rachel Reeves and I are clear, that we’ll have a Treasury and Business Department finally united in delivering that industrial strategy.


And we know you need stability when it comes to the tax system as well

There have been 26 changes to the corporation tax regime in this Parliament alone.


There are many reasons why we have the lowest business investment in the G7, but this is one of them.

When Rachel addressed this conference last year she announced a review of business taxation,

And Labour has now delivered that tax certainty.

We will cap corporation tax at the current rate for the duration of the next Parliament, and maintain full expensing.


But that will be subject to a ‘competitiveness lock’ to ensure should other G7 countries cut their main rate, we will act accordingly to remain competitive.


That means businesses can plan investment projects today, with the confidence of knowing how their returns will be taxed for the rest of this decade.

And I know, having won the argument on full expensing, Make UK is keen to look at areas like leasing, so that incentives match how modern business operates, and we’ll always be willing to engage with you in that work.


We want to give you the tools you need to bring new projects to Britain, with the new jobs and opportunities our communities are crying out for.


But I also want to be clear:

Stability and certainty, does not mean an absence of ambition to do better.


Because where we are now,

With our per capita GDP figures appalling,

With our exports struggling,

with our productivity stagnant –


That’s not good enough.


With all the talent we have in this country,

The innovative businesses I see every day,

Some of whom are the most productive in Europe, on the cutting edge of research and development,


Why then are we looking at such anaemic growth?


Why are living standards going backwards?


Why are people paying high levels of tax, but their services aren’t what they should be?

And as we look ahead to the budget the Chancellor will claim we have turned a corner,

But you all know turning that corner increasingly feels like parking up in a cul-de-sac and hoping for the best.


I believe we need a step change in our performance.


That can only come from a Government with the ambition to do better.


And the good jobs, sustained growth and productivity increase we need will only come if we harness the power of Britain’s makers.


So let me give you an example for what that ambition looks like for one of the bedrocks of our manufacturing sector – steel.

The decision of this Conservative Government to hand over half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money to make thousands of people redundant in Port Talbot is a bad deal.

It is a bad deal for workers. A bad deal for taxpayers. And a bad deal for industry.

There is no way the transition to net zero will succeed if it looks like this.


The difficult politics of net zero will not be about imaginary meat taxes or made-up claims about seven bins, but whether the transition is just and fair and delivers something for Britain’s workers.

The Government’s plans so far are none of those things and I have real concerns that by the end of this Parliament we could be the first developed nation without the ability to make primary steel.

So Labour will bring forward our promised investment in steel – committing £3 billion to develop green steel within the first five years of a Labour Government.


And when it comes to another jewel in the crown of our industrial base –

the automotive industry –

our plans will accelerate domestic battery making capacity, creating 80,000 jobs,

remove planning barriers to get shovels in the ground,

Inspire consumer confidence by fixing charging infrastructure,

And bolster our supply chain resilience with ten year research and development funding agreements.


That is how you support our most valuable exported good,

with real action to improve the total business environment,

not moving targets around to chase headlines.


But we know the whole manufacturing sector needs a Government focused on addressing the challenges they face.


That’s why we will address the skills shortages many of you are worried about,


We will reform the apprenticeship levy giving you greater flexibility over how it is spent,

and we will establish Skills England to ensure technical excellence colleges are developing courses that meet the needs of your sector.


Many of you have told me repeatedly it is too hard to build something in this country.


And that the premises you need, or the ability to build additional capacity is being held up by a planning system that blocks instead backs you.


So Labour will take on planning reform.

We’ll streamline the process for national infrastructure projects and commercial development and remove the veto used by big landowners to stop shovels hitting the ground.


Our manufacturers are also our best placed exporters, with nearly £400 billion of goods exported every year,


But I know many of you feel frustrated with the trade frictions you are experiencing.


That is why, working with business, I have convened a taskforce to look at steps we can take in Government to remove the practical barriers facing exporters.


But we will go further, under Labour our trade strategy will work hand in glove with our industrial strategy.

Securing vital market access in key areas and support manufacturing through targeted actions like critical minerals agreements.


And we’ll take the grown-up approach to Brexit that this Government has lacked.

Labour will not be seeking to re-join the single market or the customs union or to reopen the wounds of the past.

But it is right that we get a better deal for Britain’s manufacturers,

Because even with the additions of the Windsor Framework , and the reassociation with Horizon, there are real improvements we could achieve,

That includes a veterinary agreements, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and touring rights for the creative industries.


Now, finally, much has been written of Labour’s Green Prosperity plan.

But I want to state clearly our green prosperity plan remains central in our mission to grow the economy and deliver clean power, and will be a central plank of our manifesto.

Our National Wealth fund, investing in green hydrogen, carbon capture, clean steel, renewable-ready ports and gigafactories will be the catalytic public investment you have told me is needed to unlock tens of billions of pounds of private sector investment.

Our Warm Homes Plan, more ambitious and bigger than anything that has ever been done before on fuel poverty and energy efficiency.

Our British Jobs Bonus, paying more to those firms who supply their supply chain – and the jobs that creates – here in the UK.


So we will once again see the manufacturing sector at the heart of national renewal,

Creating half a million good, well-paid jobs,

And securing our future, freeing us from reliance on dictators and fossil fuels.


That is what Labour is offering:

Stability, ambition and the concrete plans to make it a reality;

An industrial strategy in statute;

A predictable, competitive corporation tax regime;

tackling skills shortages, planning barriers, trade frustrations;

And unleashing the potential of the transition with a National Wealth fund to provide catalytic public investment.

An ambitious plan to back those who build it in Britain.


And I hope in the plans I have laid out, you have heard your concerns and ideas reflected back at you,

Because this has been a true partnership.


And one I hope we can continue into the General Election and beyond.


When a product leaves a factory it goes through quality control.


Looking at every aspect, perfecting every process, hammering out any imperfections.


It’s that same skill, your critical eye and innovative thinking that I hope you will apply to the Labour Party in the coming months.

Work with us to quality control our plans, smooth the edges, ensure it all works as it should.


Now I don’t know when the General Election will be,

And I can’t know what the outcomes of it will be,

But I do know, if I get the chance to be the Business Secretary,

I will be the greatest friend and ally in government that you will have ever had.


Because I genuinely believe that together we can deliver the bright future our country so desperately needs.


That we can rebuild a Britain we can all be proud to have worked on.


Thank you.

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