By Jonathan Davies

Following Ed Miliband's speech yesterday (Tuesday) at the Labour Party Conference, business leaders have been having their say on some of the six national goals set out by the Labour leader.

The Labour leader outlined a 10-year plan for a Labour government, meaning the party is planning to win not just this general election, but in 2020 as well.

Ed Miliband explained six key areas the Labour government would focus on; cutting low paid workers, helping self employed workers, making the UK a 'green leader' in climate change and energy, boosting apprenticeships, boosting house building and first-time buyers and finally, reversing the spending cuts imposed on the NHS by the current government.

Responding to Ed Miliband’s speech, John Allan, National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said:

“Ed Miliband has put forward a challenging agenda for businesses. While our members will welcome planned boosts to house building and improving skills, these are set against rises in minimum wages, and a huge change in how we produce our energy in a short timeframe.

“We’re also keen to see much more detail on how Labour will deliver for the UK’s growing numbers of self employed people. Delivery of these goals will rest heavily on Government. Labour must engage with businesses to explain how Government and business would work together to deliver this change.”

On wages

“The Labour Party’s aspiration to raise the wages for low earners is admirable, but decisions around the minimum wage need to be informed by economic conditions. That’s why the Low Pay Commission exists to make an impartial recommendation to Government. Many sectors still struggle and assuming these levels of increase some businesses will not find this rise affordable, and that needs to be fully reflected in Labour’s thinking.

“The best way to achieve higher wages is to empower employers by providing the support and long term perspective they need to grow, and to provide staff with the skills they need for the modern workplace. Businesses want to pay their staff more and hire more employees. That’s why we are calling for the Employers Allowance which gives a £2,000 National Insurance cut to be extended as part of this support.”

On apprenticeships

“Alongside increasing numbers of apprentices we need to have higher quality training, so businesses get the right skills and young people can immediately see the value of taking a vocational path. Increasing the number of apprenticeships starts at school by ensuring we have good careers education with vocational education being equally valued to higher education.

“We need to see the detail but we don’t think making apprenticeships compulsory in procurement bids, or linking them to hiring non EU citizens is necessarily the right call. It could hold back smaller, ambitious firms from bidding for such contracts. This would only lead to reduced competition and less value for money to the public purse.”

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:

"There's no doubt that Ed Miliband has ambition for Britain and we share his desire to build more homes, raise living standards and remain in a reformed European Union.

"But we heard very little about how to create the economic growth to deliver these ambitions and the crucial role of healthy and thriving businesses in creating prosperity for all."

On Apprenticeships

"Apprenticeships will help plug our growing skills gap and for many young people these are the stepping stones into a great career. Apprenticeships must be rigorous and relevant for the world of work, as well as simple for businesses to deliver. Employers want to offer as many apprenticeships as possible so we can't see the point of insisting firms take on an apprentice for every skilled non-EU job. It's needless bureaucracy."

On improving living standards

"Boosting growth for all across the regions is a priority. Extending the retention of business rates strengthens the link between business and the local area and gives a strong incentive to local authorities to attract and nurture enterprise. But we want to see Labour go further and commit to more fundamental reform of a rates system, which is clunky, outdated and burdensome.

"Labour is right to get behind a robust industrial strategy to create jobs. The UK must raise its game on innovation investment to compete with other leading economies."

On housing

"For many young people and families the dream of owning a home is out of reach and Labour's ambition to build more, create new garden cities and support first time buyers is laudable.

"But delivering an ambitious house building programme won't be achieved by penalising house builders by making them 'use it or lose it.' Instead we need to focus on getting more viable land released for development and let house builders get on with it."

On boosting the green economy

"Tackling climate change and investing in a low carbon future requires strong leadership and long-term vision. Labour's ambition to create more hi-tech jobs and seize the green growth opportunity is one business would support. However, the UK energy supply industry needs huge investment and a solid framework and Labour's call to freeze energy prices risks jeopardising this.

On tackling low pay

"We support strong enforcement of the minimum wage.

"However, we cannot countenance political interference with the independent Low Pay Commission which carefully sets the rate at the highest level possible without undermining job creation.

"The best way to boost wages is to raise skills levels and help people progress into higher paid, higher skilled work. Businesses recognise they have more to do here.

On delivering modern public services

"With the demands on our public services intensifying in response to changes in our society and tough spending decisions ahead, business as usual isn’t an option.

"To meet the needs of an ageing population we need to put more emphasis on preventative care, so joining up the health and care services around individual need makes sense."

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