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Tory conference

Johnson to focus on levelling up and goal of tax cuts

Boris Johnson in Greenwich

Boris Johnson: aims to build back better

Boris Johnson is expected to inject a sense of optimism in the economy and focus on his levelling up agenda when he addresses the Conservative party conference.

The Prime Minister will address the long-term challenges facing the country, and commit to the ultimate goal of tax cuts and a highly-skilled workforce.

He has already said his plans mean “taking the big, bold decisions on the priorities people care about – like on social care, on supporting jobs, on climate change, tackling crime and levelling up.”

Delegates and voters will be listening closely to how he addresses each of these topics in a conference that has so far produced little in the way of new policy statements.

He will say the country is moving “towards a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy”, in which “everyone can take pride in their work and the quality of their work”, adding: “There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others, or why people should feel they have to move away from their loved ones, or communities to reach their potential.”

The Prime Minister is said to be confident that there will be no need for further lockdowns and will call for a return to the workplace, stressing the value of face-to-face working”, particularly for younger employees.

A work-from-home order was reinstated last Autumn as Covid cases rose – just weeks after employees were urged to go back to their desks.

But this year, amid an increasing confidence in the vaccine programme, there has been no official order from Westminster or Holyrood for offices to reopen, with employers left to promote safe environments and a phased return.

Mr Johnson is expected to announce that all of Britain’s electricity will come from renewable – and nuclear – sources by 2035 and will commit his party to hugely increase investment in renewable and nuclear energy. He is likely to confirm earlier reports that the government is looking at proposals for a new nuclear power plant at Wylfa in North Wales and backing carbon capture plans in Scotland.

There has been talk of him announcing an uplift in the minimum wage as he seeks to cling on to working class voters who backed him at the 2019 general election, and to assuage those who feel the party has abandoned many of the poorer in society.

Rishi Sunak: ‘the party for everyone’

This would continue the “everyman” theme in the speech delivered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak who said the Tories were the party of both the private and public sectors, of high tax and low tax, young and old people.

Mr Sunak told party members that he wanted lower taxes, but funding the pandemic recovery “comes with a cost” and allowing borrowing to rise further would be “immoral”.

He said future tax cuts are conditional on repairing the UK’s public finances after Covid.

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His comments come three weeks before his autumn Budget on 27 October amid some speculation that he could even impose new taxes to take pressure off the public finances.

He also told party delegates that leaving the EU was in the UK’s long-term interests, despite current disruption to fuel and food supplies.

But he said nothing new of substance in his 20-minute address, and made no reference to the fuel crisis, food and labour shortages and rising energy prices.

Mr Sunak has already ignored pleas to extend both the £70 billion furlough scheme and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, instead introducing a £500m package of measures to help people get back into work.

His case is strengthened by continued reports of labour shortages and rising wages and he hopes demand will absorb many of the one million workers – including 116,000 in Scotland – who were still on furlough at the end of last week.

Business was largely supportive of the Chancellor’s plans, with the CBI particularly supportive of his funding boost to AI and other technologies.

Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, said: “Business shares the Chancellor’s ambitious vision for a high-growth economy driven by science, technology and innovation.

Tony Danker: ‘all must rise together’

“The government can rely on the skills, ingenuity and delivery capability of business to realise this vision.

“The Chancellor’s emphasis on equipping young people for the world of work, from the Kickstart scheme to new AI scholarships, as well as helping people retrain for the jobs of the future, is the right approach.

“The only way to achieve the high-wage, high-skill economy we all want is to unlock productivity through higher investment and growth. All must rise together to avoid a further squeeze on living standards and to realise a better decade than the last.”

On the ending of furlough, and the SNP’s call for an extension, Ross Stupart, corporate tax partner, RSM UK, said: “Rather than making pleas for further funding from Westminster to support further furlough, was this not the opportunity for the Scottish Government to take control over a future pathway towards work?”

He said it would be better to lobby the Chancellor to invest in retraining and supporting sectors that are experiencing serious staff shortages.

“There have been noises for some time now regarding significant amounts of the apprenticeship levy funds raised going unspent. Perhaps this warrants a dialogue around how the unspent funds can be directed towards other forms of training and skills creation measures.

“A proactive and more thoughtful approach to this matter could create a more flexible and agile workforce in Scotland that will serve the country well for the long term and the cost of retraining/redeployment has to be less than the cost of subsidising salaries.”



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