Corbyn vs Johnson: What are their plans for business?

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn set out how their premiership would affect employers.

by Stephen Jones & Natasha Abramson
Last Updated: 21 Nov 2019

In this most Brexit of elections, there is some good news for CEOs everywhere - business is actually on the political agenda. 

The leaders of the main three parties took to the stage at the CBI’s Annual Conference to set out their plans for industry. More details will presumably follow when the manifestos are published, though it may be wishful thinking to expect a detailed breakdown of how the parties would actually pay for their promises, should they win the election.

Here are the highlights from Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

What the Conservatives would do for business

Not cut corporation tax

The most headline grabbing part of Johnson’s speech was the reversal of Tory plans to cut corporation tax. 

It had been due to drop from 19 per cent to 17 per cent by April 2020, but now the PM has pledged to put the cash saved toward the NHS. Nethertheless, it remains the lowest in the G20.

"Before you storm the stage and protest," said Johnson to the delegation, "let me remind you that this saves £6bn we can put into the priorities of the British people."

It’s probably a postponement rather than scrapping, and it’s thought that Johnson may resurrect the cut if the economy needs stimulating - in the case of a damaging no-deal Brexit for example. 

Review business rates 

If they’re victorious, the Tories have pledged to review the "burden" of business rates in their first budget post election. Rates, which are based on the ‘rateable value’ of business premises, have been partly blamed by retail bosses as a cause of the struggles experienced by many high street retailers over the past few years. 

The party has also pledged to increase employment allowance from £3,000 to £4,000 which could save an estimated 500,000 businesses £1,000 in tax relief. 

Provide certainty over Brexit

Just as throughout his Tory leadership campaign, Johnson’s election catchphrase has been to "Get brexit done" and unsurprisingly he is pledging to do just that. 

The PM doubled down on his insistence that a working majority would enable him to secure an agreement to leave the EU by Jan 31 and provide bosses with the certainty that they have been craving since the 2016 election. 

The CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn warned that Johnson would still need to provide the "right" kind of certainty. "Unnecessary deadlines and damaging cliff edges should be replaced by taking the time needed to secure a sustainable, ambitious relationship," she said to the Guardian. 

What Labour would do for business

Corbyn opened his speech attempting to set the record straight, saying he is not against businesses, but rather against greed and inequality. He left no illusions, however, that his plans would involve large-scale government spending, with all that comes with that.

He set out what the Labour government would do to support businesses with relation to the three biggest challenges he believes the next government will face: equipping children for the future, reducing inequality and tackling the climate and environment emergency.

An investment blitz

Corbyn promised an "investment blitz" to protect the workforce, national infrastructure and the NHS.

"We’ll urgently upgrade and expand our schools, hospitals, care homes and housing with a five-year, £150 billion Social Transformation Fund," declared Corbyn, who also pledged to boost devolved budgets for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There would also be a ten-year, £250bn Green Transformation Fund for environmentally sustainable infrastructure. 

Training and skills

The green investment would be supported by a Sustainable Investment Board to build a green, high-skilled workforce, "involving the Chancellor, Business Secretary and Bank of England Governor - there’ll also be seats for businesses and trade unions." 

Corbyn promised a new climate apprenticeship programme, which would "deliver 320,000 apprenticeships in England alone during the first term of a Labour government". 

"These climate apprenticeships will offer training to school leavers and workers looking to change jobs mid-career creating the engineers, technicians and construction workers we need to transition to a green economy." 

Life-long learning would be built into a new "National Education Service providing free education as a right to all, throughout life."

Shift to a four-day working week

"The next Labour government will reduce the average full-time working week to 32 hours within the next decade," announced shadow Chancellor to the Labour Party conference. 

The plans, which will be gradually rolled out over 10 years, are based on the economy as a whole becoming more productive through the use of technology and other methods. 

(Also) provide certainty over Brexit

Boris Johnson isn’t the only one promising to "get Brexit done", although the Labour leader has a rather different definition of what that actually means.

"We’ll secure a sensible deal," Corbyn said, including a customs union and a single market (though not necessarily the single market) - a deal that he says would protect rights, standards, and the Good Friday Agreement, and that would be put to a public vote "alongside the option of remaining in the EU."

Image credit: Ben STANSALL / AFP via Getty Images


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