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Date: 03/10/2014

This weeks policy update unpacks the keynote speeches of Prime Minister, David Cameron, along with Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, at this weeks Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

This weeks policy update focuses on the speeches of key cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister himself, David Cameron, at the Conservative Party Conference, which was held this week in Birmingham.

Aside from the Prime Minister, a keynote speech was delivered by George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Prime Minister's speech affirms the centrality of economic prosperity

David Cameron took to the stage at the ICC in Birmingham on Wednesday to deliver a speech that covered, amongst other issues, the economy, corporation tax, housing, Britain's long-term energy strategy and Europe.

Commenting on the speech, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said:

On the economy: "The Prime Minister was right to make the link between a competitive business environment, a strong economy and the resources available for delivering the public services people across Britain want. The continued commitment to balancing the books is absolutely right, as are the income tax cuts for promoting work, enterprise and aspiration. Overall, this was a speech that stressed the importance of the economy and didn’t duck the scale of the challenges we face."

On corporation tax: "Keeping corporation tax low is important to the UK’s competitiveness – but so are the many taxes businesses pay before making a profit. To have a truly competitive tax system, the government must reduce and reform business rates, which remain the highest in Europe. We are calling on the next government to achieve the lowest business input taxes and charges by 2020.''

On housing: "We applaud the Prime Minister’s focus on addressing the UK’s housing shortage, and his recognition that Britain needs to take on the vested interests of those who stand in the way of more homes being built. Businesses are used to hearing pledges on housing from all parties and the inevitable backlash from the nimbys, but ministers will be judged on how many new homes are actually built. In our Business Manifesto, we are calling on the government to be even more ambitious and support private sector construction rates of at least 200,000 new homes per annum."  

On Britain's energy strategy and Europe: "Businesses are still waiting for clarity in a number of areas including energy and Europe. The next government will need to set out a 50-year plan for energy security, and be explicit on what its negotiating stance is on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union."

George Osborne delivers strong case for business, whilst omitting a few key points

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, covered deficit reduction, pensions and welfare cuts to fund apprenticeships during his speech. However, concerns were raised due to his omission of access to finance and a commitment to helping Britain become an exporting powerhouse.

Commenting, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said:

On the economy and deficit reduction: "The Chancellor's ambition for UK growth is in stark contrast to others in the political discourse, some of whom seem to have accepted a 'new normal' of low growth. Businesses will support the Chancellor's continued commitment to mend Britain's public finances. Above all, companies value certainty, consistency and predictability when it comes to economic policy - so it is pleasing to see the measures announced by the Chancellor are in keeping with the goal of getting the deficit down."

On pensions: "Putting money into a pension pot is not only important for the financial health of individuals, it's important for the health of the economy too. Savings underpin investment and we need to do more as a country to boost business investment. This must go hand in hand with measures to boost savings. So we welcome the Chancellor's announcement to abolish the so called 'death tax' to give people an additional incentive to save for their retirement."

On welfare cuts to fund apprenticeships: "The Chancellor made the correct link between skills and immigration, as the people of Britain should be able to compete for jobs in an open market. With our open borders, the only way to do this is by ensuring the UK has a highly skilled workforce that businesses want to employ. The commitment to raise the level of public investment in apprenticeships will be supported by business. Increasing the number of apprenticeships from two million to three million over the next five years is a challenging but worthy aspiration. As an economy that relies on knowledge and skills, training our young people is as important as the infrastructure of our nation such as our roads, railways and airports. We agree with the supporting package of welfare measures that do more to make work pay for young people, and ensure that the funding is available for the additional apprenticeships."

Whilst the Chancellor's speech covered many issues that are fundamentally important to the business community, the lack of attention given to access to finance and improving Britain's exporting portfolio was troubling.

Commenting on the speech, Mike Ashton, Chief Executive of the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, said: "SMEs are still struggling to access a range of finance that can help them drive their growth ambitions, whilst the trade deficit that currently exists in Britain will not go away without a political commitment to helping businesses export for the first time and current exporters reach their true trade potential."