Labour ‘ready to rebuild Britain’ after Tory chaos, says Reeves

Labour is “ready to rebuild Britain” and restore economic security after the “chaos” of the Tory years, Rachel Reeves said.

The shadow chancellor delivered her pitch to the nation at what is likely to be the last major Labour conference before a general election.

In her speech, Ms Reeves told activists in Liverpool that Labour would pull the economy out of the “wreckage of Tory misrule” with a “vision to rebuild Britain”.

She confirmed plans for reforms to the “antiquated” planning system to make it quicker and easier to build the infrastructure needed for modern industries and clean energy networks.

Labour Party Conference 2023
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves with party leader Sir Keir Starmer at the conference in Liverpool (Peter Byrne/PA)

She told Rishi Sunak to “bring it on” if he wanted a fight on the issue at a time when children in state schools were being taught in temporary classrooms due to crumbling concrete.

Ms Reeves said: “The choice at the next election is this: five more years of the Tory chaos and uncertainty which has left working people worse off or a changed Labour Party offering stability, investment and economic security so that working people are better off.

“It falls to us to show that Labour are ready to serve, ready to lead and ready to rebuild Britain.”

Ms Reeves also set out a series of measures to tackle the waste of taxpayers’ money:

– A crackdown on the use of private planes by ministers, which she announced with a jibe at Mr Sunak, suggesting his love of flying was because he was scared of meeting voters.

– Curbing Whitehall’s use of consultants.

– A new Covid corruption commissioner with a “hit squad” of investigators to recoup money lost in the “carnival of waste” during the pandemic.

Labour Party Conference 2023
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves with party leader Sir Keir Starmer after her keynote speech (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The cancellation of HS2 north of Birmingham by Mr Sunak presents a political headache for Labour, which has been under pressure from some of its senior figures to commit to the scheme.

“If I were in the Treasury, I would have been on the phone to the chief executive of HS2 non-stop,” she said.

“Demanding answers, and solutions, on behalf of taxpayers, businesses and commuters.”

The promised unit would be responsible for ensuring crucial national infrastructure projects are delivered on time and on budget and report directly to the prime minister and the chancellor.

“I will not tolerate taxpayers’ money being treated with the disrespect we have seen over recent years,” she said.

“I will not turn a blind eye to dither, delay and incompetence. I will hold those responsible to account. ”

Her plans would mean reinstating sign-off procedures on procuring consultants, with a target to reduce spending by half – or £1.4 billion – over the next parliament,

Labour Party Conference 2023
Labour leader Keir Starmer addressed business leaders at the party’s conference (Peter Byrne/PA)

And the Covid corruption commissioner would examine contracts signed during the pandemic line by line to recover up to £2.6 billion lost to fraud, waste and non-delivery.

Former Bank of England economist Ms Reeves – who won the baking of ex-Threadneedle Street governor Mark Carney  – said:  “Taxpayers’ money should be spent with the same care with which we spend our own money.”

She said the national wealth fund promised by Labour would leverage three-times as much private money as the public money put into it.

“Financial responsibility means knowing when not to spend, but it also means making sure that when you invest, you get the bang for your buck.”

She also promised windfall taxes on energy companies and a system for online tech giants to “pay their fair share”.

Her speech followed a concerted attempt by Labour to woo leading figures from the business world.

Addressing company bosses at a breakfast meeting on Monday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he feared Mr Sunak would be prepared to “go low” during the election as he fights to hold on to the keys to No 10.

He told business chiefs at his party’s conference that he was prepared for an election to be held next May, although Mr Sunak is thought to be considering holding off until autumn 2024.

But Sir Keir said he expected the campaign to “descend into a place which isn’t about big politics”.

“I’m not going to predict the outcome of the general election, nor when it will be,” he said.

“Though obviously it will either be May or October, and our team is ready for May because I don’t think anybody would rule out May.”

He added: “In terms of how it will be run, I think it will unfortunately descend into a place which isn’t about big politics.

“I think it will go low, from the Government’s point of view.”

He said that the decision to delay or water down net zero measures such as the shift away from petrol and diesel cars showed that “instead of making decisions in the long-term interest of the UK, the Government is in danger of making decisions in the short-term interest of opening up divides for the purpose of an election”.

“When a government gets into that place, whatever political party it is, that’s a bad place for the country,” Sir Keir said.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt mocked Ms Reeves for not addressing inflation in her speech.

“It is extraordinary that inflation wasn’t mentioned once by Rachel Reeves when it is the biggest challenge facing the British economy,” he said.

“Instead, Reeves made it clear Labour will increase borrowing by £28 billion every year which is a fairy tale for the British economy with no happy ending – just higher inflation, higher mortgages, higher debt and lower growth.

“Borrowing more doesn’t solve problems, it creates them – the worst kind of short termism when instead we should be taking long term decisions that will actually tackle inflation and unleash growth.”

Confederation of British Industry chief Rain Newton-Smith said: “Businesses will be encouraged to hear the shadow chancellor speak so ambitiously about driving up business investment and committing to tackle some of the key blockers.

“Unlocking business investment and improving UK productivity is the best route we can take to raising living standards and secure sustainable growth.”

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