The leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties used the platform of the 2019 CBI Annual Conference to make major business-friendly policy announcements, including significant increases in support for Research and Development.
Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson all appeared before business leaders for the first time during an election campaign and there was no shortage of eye-catching measures to try and gain the support of business in the run-up to the poll on 12 December.
Boris Johnson maintained that whist businesses in the UK are doing “extraordinary things, the country is not firing on all cylinders”, with the economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit leading to a pent-up demand for investment. Johnson stated his aim to unlock the potential of the whole UK through a mix of government support for infrastructure, skills, education and technology.
The Prime Minister announced a cut in business rates for SMEs along with a reduction in employer’s NI contributions. At the centre of his R&D ambitions is a proposal to double the overall funding for business-led Research and Development to £18 billion over the next parliament.
A surprise announcement at the conference was a delay in the reduction of corporation tax from the current 19% to the proposed 17% originally announced when George Osborne was Chancellor. This will of course benefit profitable SMEs claiming R&D Tax Relief.
Johnson believes that the kind of long-term investments proposed by the Conservatives will create the platform for growth and encourage private sector investment, with more jobs and regeneration being the result.
Jeremy Corbyn made the case to business leaders that it is “nonsense” to say that he is anti-business. He just wants prosperity in all parts of the country. In fact, Labour would be good for business due to the massive planned investment in broadband and transport infrastructure, along with access to the EU Single Market, measures to tackle late payments for SMEs, reform business rates and revitalise high streets.
Whilst there was no specific mention of R&D from the Labour leader, he outlined plans to set up a business development agency which will make “massive investments on a scale never seen before in the UK”. This will deliver “huge new opportunities for businesses to expand” with government investing in education, skills, infrastructure, the climate crisis, as well as being able to reduce inequality.
Jo Swinson positioned herself away from both Johnson and Corbyn, stating that “business is not part of the problem it is part of the solution”. She said that government and business need to work together more effectively and that the LibDems are now the “true party of business”.
Her surprise announcement was a plan to scrap business rates entirely and replace them with a levy on landowners and to make the UK a leader in green technologies through a Green Investment Bank.
Crucially, a Liberal Democrat government will “increase investment in R&D as the UK lags behind other countries and this needs to change”.