The Conservatives and Labour have defended their proposals for business at the start of a campaign day likely to be dominated by the economy, with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn due to address potentially sceptical audiences at the CBI conference.
Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, is also due to address the annual gathering of the business group, taking place in London.
In a round of interviews before Corbyn’s speech on Monday morning the shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, responded to comments from the CBI’s director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn, that Labour’s plans, notably on nationalisation, could “crack the foundations of the economy”.
“I’m sure Jeremy will be able to reassure Carolyn later on today, when he talks to the CBI,” Gardiner told BBC1’s Breakfast programme. “We’ve been listening very carefully to businesses, and one of the things they’ve been telling us is they’re fed up with the failing infrastructure in this country.”
On areas as wide as the NHS, trains and broadband – on Friday Labour announced a plan to create a nationalised provider for ultra-fast, UK-wide broadband – things “aren’t working as they should”, Gardiner said.
“These are things that are really going to transform business in this country, and I think business will really welcome this,” Gardiner said, likening the current system of internet provision to having a nationwide system of private toll roads.
“It’s actually seeing that this is the needs of business, to provide the infrastructure free of charge, and what you then do is you create much greater wealth to be able to afford that.”
Speaking later to Sky News, Gardiner said the CBI’s scepticism about the broadband plan did not mean it was a bad idea, adding: “I remember when the CBI said a minimum wage would crack the economy. It was going to cause greater unemployment, and put businesses out of business.
“In fact, the economy, we had greater employment, because there was greater wealth coming into the economy.”
Addressing the combined cost of Labour’s ambitious plans for infrastructure investment, Gardiner said there would be full costings in the manifesto later this week: “During the last election campaign Labour was the only party that fully costed our manifesto proposals, and we shall do so again.”
For the Conservatives, the business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, talked up a plan to cut business rates, with a promise to launch a review into the system.
The government needed to “significantly change” business rates to help high streets, she said. Asked about the effect lower rates would have on squeezed incomes for councils, which receive some of the revenues, Leadsom said: “That’s exactly why we need to consult widely on it.
“Because, exactly as you say, there are implications of what you do with business rates. But what we are quite clear about is that we want to help businesses with their ongoing costs.”