Progress on Economic Policy

In its second meeting the Economy, Business and Trade Policy Commission, held on 21 February, discussion focused on a first draft of the consultation document and reports from the front bench.

Barry Gardener, who shadows international trade, reported that a House of Commons vote had finally been called on CETA. Unfortunately the vote was not in the whole House but a specially convened standing committee. It received little attention as it met on the same day as amendments were being voted on the Article 50 bill.

The Labour Party was against the agreement for a number of reasons:

  • the government had failed to add any UK products to the list of items with protected geographical indications;
  • the threats to public services from the investor court system;
  • the lack of specific measure to support SMEs.

Nevertheless some Labour MPs voted for and others abstained.

John McDonnell reported that the first paper on the review of the Treasury had been published and was well received. A new report was in preparation on alternative forms of ownership. The shadow Treasury team was now busy preparing their lines of attack for the Budget.

The first regional conference held in Liverpool had been well attended (400+) and had begun the process of developing a regional economic plan. The next conference would be in Glasgow in March with Newcastle and Bristol in preparation. The annual State of the Economy conference would be held in Birmingham.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, who recently became shadow industry secretary, talked about the preparation of a “new deal for business”. The Tories have lost the pro-business mantle and Labour wants to take it up. The new deal will cover issues such as a review of corporate governance, pay ratios, support for small businesses the future role of LEPs and growth partnerships.

Two important items of current business had seen the front bench calling the government to account; the revaluation of business rates and the sale of Vauxhall to PSA as well as the proposed takeover of Unilever by Kraft.

The Vauxhall case was particularly difficult given the French government stake and the scale of the German plants. Her team are pushing for the government to seek the same protection as is available to French workers under that country’s legislation.

The commission discussed the first draft of the consultation document. It will cover four areas – the economy, business, international trade and industrial strategy. Future meetings will take evidence from interested partied including trade unions, think tanks, business groups and academics.

Evidence sessions will be held in late March and in June.

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