Britain has the builders in – Rachel Reeve’s first speech as Chancellor

The general election seems like an age ago.

Since Friday morning Sir Keir Starmer has criss-crossed the country meeting the devolved nations, while his new cabinet fanned out over the weekend in a flurry of activity.

David Lammy visited several large EU Member States, signalling a desire for an improved relationship, and called for a cease fire in Gaza. The Rwanda deal has been abolished and Yvette Cooper has announced the project will be audited to claw back some of the £290m already spent. Wes Streeting has taken steps to deal with striking doctors and the lack of access to dentists, addressing two of the issues that were having a direct impact on voters’ lived experiences.

But the big speech took place this morning. Rachel Reeves, Britain’s first female Chancellor, set out Labour’s growth plan designed to deliver on their manifesto commitments and be the engine room for recovery. The objective was ‘to get Britain building again’ as she announced changes to planning regulations to allow building on greenfield sites; the reintroduction of mandatory housing targets and a promise to build 1.5m new homes by the end of the parliament; a new policy direction for critical national infrastructure; and the ending of the onshore wind ban in England.

There was disappointment for those who had hoped Labour would declare it was worse than expected and announce tax rises and increased borrowing to pay for public services. Indeed, Reeves did acknowledge a recent Treasury analysis which revealed the economy was £140bn smaller than it should be, with £58bn in lost tax revenue since 2010. But there was no hint of tax rises hidden in the manifesto.

There will be no unexpected tax increases from Labour. They will do exactly as they had said on the tin. When Labour said during the campaign that growth would be the key to funding public services, they meant it. And at the centre of the plan will be the ability to attract foreign direct investment into the country, and that means no surprises.

Business hates uncertainty and Starmer wants to position the country as providing stable economic conditions that will attract long-term strategic investment decisions because the return will be guaranteed. And that means no unscripted increases in capital gains tax or corporation tax. Instead of shopping trolleys and five families, Starmer is offering a united front and a single voice, which is why all the ministers involved in the delivery of this morning’s plan – Rayner, Miliband, Reynolds, Kyle – were sat in the front row demonstrating the primacy of the Treasury over individual fiefdoms in Cabinet.

However, there is a long way to go, and it will be some time before changing the planning rules has an impact on the wider economy and people feel the benefit of improved public services. The electorate sacked the Conservatives from government on Thursday, and Labour will have to see out its probationary period before being judged by a voting public adept at tactical voting, cynical about politicians and desperate for some respite from the cost-of-living crisis.

It has been a bold if predictable start from Labour and the King’s speech, which will set out the legislative priorities for the next Parliament, will be the key indicator of where organisations that want to engage with the government should focus. The message for any businesses, think tanks, pressure groups and lobbyists must be to think about how you can help the government achieve its objectives, not what you can get from the government, and how can you do it at as little or no cost at all.

If you want to understand more about how the Labour Government will operate and how Whitehouse Communications Labour Engagement Forum can help you engage, then do please get in touch with Max Wilson.