Swinson goes down a storm at the CBI – read her full speech here

“Jo Swinson gets best reception at CBI for Lib Dems’ pro-EU stance” was the The Guardian’s headline following election hustings at the UK leading business organisation on Tuesday 19th November.

The paper reports:  

“Jo Swinson was the most warmly received of the party leaders at the CBI’s annual conference, as the Liberal Democrat leader’s unwavering commitment to remaining in the EU proved popular with business delegates.

“As leaders did their best to promote their policies to the business community prior to the general election on 12 December, the audience’s reaction to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was lukewarm at best.”

Having reiterated the party’s trademark commitment to stopping Brexit Jo Swinson went on to announce a string of pro-business policies, including scrapping business rates entirely to breathe new life into our high streets.

She told her audience that “the Liberal Democrats would abolish business rates and replace them with a commercial landowner levy, based on the value of the land only. This would take the cost off businesses and help support our high streets.”

The change would cut taxes in 92% of local authorities and help rebalance the UK economy.

Swinson also set out plans to spend £130bn on infrastructure, including housebuilding, and £5bn for a new Green Investment Bank to invest in zero-carbon projects.

The Guardian goes on to quote a string of delegates who say that, having heard from Swinson, they will now be supporting the Liberal Democrats.

This is the text of her full speech:

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Carolyn, for that lovely introduction, and for inviting me here today.

The CBI do an amazing job of representing those 190,000 members across the country. And I am so glad to have the opportunity to address many of you today.

You’ve already heard from both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn today. And I’m delighted to join you – depending on how the high court decision goes, this might be the closest I get to sharing a stage with them at this election.

I completely agree more with the CBI’s stance that business has the power to do good.

When I was growing up, one of my favourite shops was the Body Shop. And I would go there, in the run-up to Christmas, and get my little basket, pick out the strawberry and banana-shaped soaps, and make up a little gift for one of my friends.

But when I’d go up to the till, there’d be a petition to sign, maybe about recycling or fair trade or cosmetic testing on animals

The body shop founder Anita Roddick is still to this day one of my heroes. Her books Business as Unusual sits on my bookshelf. I have a signed copy which is one of my most prized possessions.

Her approach to business was indeed unusual. In the 80s and 90s, the received wisdom was that nothing mattered more than shareholder returns.

Anita Roddick bucked that trend. She genuinely believed that business could be a force for good. That business shouldn’t part of the problem but part of the solution.

And the Liberal tradition is steeped in that same belief – business can and must be a force for good.

A hundred years ago, the Cadburys and the Rowntrees showed how business is so much more than numbers on a balance sheet.

They created partnerships between industry and their communities, improving housing, health and wellbeing – and ensuring that those working in their businesses were able to thrive and realise their own ambitions.

And as business minister, I worked so closely with the business community, including the CBI, to ensure that business could make the most of all the talent in our country – whether by introducing shared parental leave or gender pay gap reporting.

We are so lucky to boast such a dynamic, entrepreneurial and pioneering business community.

Just this morning I visited Imagination Technologies in St Albans, a company employing hundreds of people, developing high-efficiency graphics processors for use in smartphones, laptops and cars. As ever, I was impressed by the innovation, the energy, the constant desire for improvement.

We owe you so much for what you do. You create wealth in our country, build world-leading industries, and enable investment in our public services.

And I know that, to tackle the biggest challenges we face, government and business need to work together.

There is such great ingenuity in this room and beyond, and only a foolish government would fail to harness that spirit of innovation to transform our country for the better.

I know that recent years have been challenging – and not just because of the dreaded B-word.

The Conservatives hide behind the balance sheet and employment rates to paint a picture of a healthy economy.

But you and I know that, if we look more closely, the image is not quite as rosy as they would have us believe.

After all, we know that Boris Johnson is hardly a details man.

It’s a bit like when you ask your child to tidy up their room – the room might look clean, but you know you’ll find a mess hidden under their bed.

So let’s take a closer look at the health of our economy.

Last year, business investment fell every quarter, for the first time since 2008.

In the last 12 months, our productivity growth has flatlined.

And R&D spending continues to lag behind that of our competitors.

That’s not what a healthy economy looks like.

And for too many people, the economy just isn’t working at all.

Despite record levels of employment, the average wage is £760 lower than it was ten years ago in real terms.

One in five people is living in poverty, in our country – the world’s fifth largest economy.

The vote to leave the European Union has distracted the government from addressing the very real issues in our economy.

It’s created great uncertainty – about the future of our country, our economy, our relationship with our closest trade partners.

I can only imagine how frustrating it is for you every time we end up days away from crashing out of the EU.  

How frustrating it is to watch the government recklessly pursue a policy that will be damaging to your businesses.

How frustrating it is that you are having to pay such a high price just so Boris Johnson gets to play at being Prime Minister.

Just so the man who said ‘F business’ can sit in Number 10.

Over the last couple of weeks, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have set out their plans for investing in schools, hospitals, railways, and everything in between.

Build infrastructure, and the jobs, tax receipts and economic growth will follow.

Seems like sound logic, but it is not that straightforward.

To spend that much money that quickly, we need ‘shovel-ready’ projects.

We need the skills and people to make them happen.

And we need you to feel confident, to want to invest, safe in the knowledge that the government of the day values you and respects you.

Leaving the European Union makes all that so much more difficult.

Already EU citizens have started to leave us.

We know it will only become harder for you to get the talent you need.

And we know that business confidence is at its lowest level in seven years.

Both the Conservatives and Labour will have to scramble around for projects to pour money into just to keep their word – regardless of whether they’re good projects and good use of public funds.

So they can stand on stages like this one and give speech after speech, making all the right noises about investment, about wanting to work with you and give you what you need to thrive.

But the truth is this.

If you want to get Brexit done or get Brexit sorted, you are not the party of business.

In an interview last week, Carolyn asked who the party of business is today.

The answer is clear. The Liberal Democrats are the natural party of business.

With the Conservatives in the pocket of Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn stuck in the 1970s, we are the only ones standing up for you.

Because we believe that any form of Brexit, whether it’s hard or soft, blue or red, will be bad for jobs, business, and our public services.

Boris Johnson talked of a Brexit boom this morning, but we know it’s much more likely to be a Brexit bust.

We believe that being part of one of the most successful economic blocs in the world is the best guarantee we can have for the future success of our businesses and of our country.

We believe that our best future is as members of the European Union.

That’s why a Liberal Democrat government will stop Brexit on day one, and will use the £50 billion Remain bonus to improve our schools and look after the most vulnerable in our society.

And we’ll get on with the job of dealing with the obstacles you face.

We’ll invest £130bn in infrastructure over five years.

We’ll use that to improve our railways and open up new lines.

To reduce how much energy our buildings use.

And we’ll use it to leverage private investment in renewables, to help us meet our target of generating 80% of our electricity from renewables by 2030.

And we are confident we can stick to our plans for two reasons:

First, we are back-loading our investment so that most of it will happen toward the end of the five years, giving us time to get the foundations in place.

And second because we believe that freedom of movement is a good thing.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are promising to splash the cash on this and that infrastructure project – but they would also end freedom of movement.

Without the European bricklayers, engineers and builders, they won’t be able to build the homes, hospitals, schools and railways they’ve promised.

We can’t build it, unless they come.

Liberal Democrats are committed to helping small businesses, who are the engine of our economy.

That is why Liberal Democrats would scrap business rates and replace them with a Commercial Landowner Levy.

It will shift the burden from the tenant to the landlord, so that we can breathe new life into our high streets. 

Frankly, we have seen enough promises of reviews of business rates from the Conservatives. It is time for clear action that will give proper help to our small businesses.

We will give every adult in England a new £10,000 skills wallet so they can keep learning throughout their lives.

And as part of our radical and credible plan to reach net-zero emissions as soon as possible, we will make the UK a global leader in green jobs and technology.

A Liberal Democrat government will work with you to open up new opportunities for green growth and to save our planet. We will invest £5bn in zero-carbon projects through the Green Investment bank.

We owe it to our children to do this. We are the last generation that can stop irreversible climate change, and we are running out of time.

There is much that government can do, but I am clear that the business community is absolutely part of the solution.

Not least because we need to channel your ideas and entrepreneurialism to take on this huge challenge, and others we face.

And my vision is for a country where business joins forces with government, public services and civil society to create the kind of society we deserve.

So many businesses already take great responsibility for the communities around them, but I know we can do more to encourage others to do the same.

We will introduce a general duty of care for the environment and human rights for all companies and public sector agencies.

We will reform fiduciary duty so companies are less bound by shareholder-value.

So that they can spend more time focusing on the wellbeing of their employees, the impact they have on the environment and how they give back to the communities on which they rely.

And we will ask all UK-listed companies and private companies with more than 250 employees to have at least one employee representative on their boards.

That will help rebuild trust between workers and bosses.

There is much to be proud of when I think about the strengths of our business community – from its world-leading innovation to its tough resilience in difficult times.

And you deserve a government that works to help you thrive, not stifle you.

What is on offer to you from the tired old two parties at this general election is a terrible choice.

You have a Conservative party that cannot be trusted to respect the rule of law and that is marching in step with Nigel Farage, intent on pursuing a hard Brexit.

And a Labour party that thinks little of property rights and wants to waste yet more time negotiating its own bad Brexit deal.

Our country and our business community deserve better than that. That’s why a Liberal Democrat government will stop Brexit, and I absolutely want you by my side as we build a brighter future for our country together.

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