UK must wean itself off cheap labour, says Starmer - GulfToday

UK must wean itself off cheap labour, says Starmer

Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer

James Moore, The Independent

The leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, wants to wean business off immigration. Britain needs to train up its own workers and produce a high-skilled, high-wage nirvana. Does that sound familiar? I don’t have much time for the people who shout “Tory” at the Labour leader. It’s patently ridiculous. What he had to say to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) wasn’t what a Tory would say in any way shape or form. For a start, Starmer mentioned the unions, and the interest they have in all this. He accepted the need for immigration, particularly when it comes to ensuring Britain has enough people for certain sectors to function.

But he told business that if they want more of it (which they do), they would have to accept some conditions. We’ll do a deal. We’ll let you import more people. And we’re not going to let the economy seize up through a lack of HGV drivers. But you have to invest in training up Brits if that’s what you want.

It’s a better, more pragmatic approach than we’ve been getting from a government in the grip of the Powellite, pull up the drawbridge brigade. Rishi Sunak had lots of nice things to say about growth and innovation and… other stuff, before Robert Jenrick told businesses off for calling on the government to help them out by letting them bring in more workers in sectors where they cant find them.

It felt a bit like the CEOs of Barclays, Lloyds and HSBC being sent to the naughty step by a bank branch manager in Sidcup. Wait, is Robert Jenrick even good enough to run a bank branch in Sidcup? If there still is one? I have my doubts.

He mightn’t be able to run a bank branch, but this donut is currently in charge of Britain’s immigration policy. I’m not religious but, well, “God help us” would seem to be the appropriate response Sunak and Jenrick have to play obeisance party’s hard right. But Starmer wants to woo the red wall, where immigration is still a hot button issue. So while he’s trying to sound constructive, he won’t go too far. They’re not in the same place. But nor are they not as far apart as it might appear.

We’re hearing a lot of talk about “innovation”, “skills”, “high wages” and “dynamic economies” from both. Trouble is, they’re assuming that if they say this stuff loudly enough, businesses will respond with: “Gosh darn it, you know what chaps, you’re absolutely right. We’ll knuckle down and let you get away with doing sod all and the magical growth Brexit nirvana will be with us so you can claim the credit. Huzzah!”

On the day of Starmer’s speech, the Office for National Statistics released figures showing that spending on research and development increased by 6.2 per cent to £46.9bn. It might look good, but Mark Tighe, CEO of Catax, an innovation funding consultant, quickly pointed to the gorilla in the room.

“Take the effect of inflation out of a 6.2 per cent rise in R&D spending and it’s apparent that innovation investment is barely growing at all,” he said.

That’s those Tories, Starmer would argue. With some justification. But how would Labour improve that figure? It isn’t altogether clear yet. The CBI’s response to Starmer felt a shade more welcoming than its response to Sunak. Of course, it’s a lobby group and it’s well aware of the way the political winds are blowing. Starmer looks like the next prime minister. It feels slightly odd to be saying that, given what happened at the last general election and the huge swing he still requires to get even close to a majority, but he does.

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