Liberal Democrats believe the British economy is simply not working for enough people today, and is not fit to face the challenges of tomorrow.
This motion and the accompanying policy paper set out how Liberal Democrats can work towards creating a new economy that really works for everyone – one that provides good jobs and opportunities at work, ensures business serves the common good and consumers benefit, and sustains strong communities and thriving places.
The motion’s proposals to create a fair economy include a powerful new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority to protect those in precarious work, a ‘Good Employer’ kite mark, a national skills strategy, an expanded skills and training levy, and mandatory reporting of pay ratios and corrective action plans.
The motion seeks to reform the ways companies and markets are governed to entrench a longer-term, more sustainable approach. Liberal Democrats want to make the UK a laboratory for new forms of enterprise, with a big boost to employee ownership by extending the Liberal Democrat ‘employee ownership trust’ scheme.
Liberal Democrats have always challenged concentrations of power, whether in the state or in business corporations, so the motion calls for stronger regulation of monopolies, enhanced consumer protections, greater rights over data and by sharing economic benefits more widely through an innovative Citizens’ Wealth Fund.
To create a balanced economy that works for the whole UK, the motion proposes devolving more powers on economic development to cities and regions within England, creating city and region integrated economic development plans, aligned with the national industrial strategy, based on specialist sector clusters and with close links to universities.
Conference believes the current British economy is simply not working for enough people today, and is not fit to face the challenges of tomorrow, in that:
- Real living standards are being squeezed and inequalities of wealth and income are worsening.
- The economy is geographically and sectorally unbalanced, and productive investment is too low.
- Much economic activity is unsustainable, threatening the planet on which future generations depend.
Conference regrets that successive Labour and Conservative governments over decades have preferred to protect vested interests and pursue dogmatic ideological battles rather than tackle the real underlying problems of the economy, and that the current Government's industrial strategy is woefully inadequate in supporting businesses to thrive and grow.
Conference further believes that Brexit will, at best, exacerbate these problems, while technological changes already underway - digital, biological, physical - will disrupt and transform our economy over coming decades, on a scale similar to the first industrial revolution; who gains or loses depends on how we act now.
Conference therefore resolves to work towards creating a new economy that really works for everyone - one that provides good jobs and opportunity at work, ensures business serves the common good and consumers benefit, and sustains strong communities and thriving places; this should be based on the principles of:
- Greater fairness and equality of opportunity, overcoming barriers and truly enabling individuals to advance and be rewarded in a dynamic economy and fulfilling world of work.
- Positively embracing innovation and the potential of the new technologies to serve society and enhance human well-being, while protecting individuals from negative impacts and ensuring the benefits are widely shared.
- Productive, entrepreneurial business, freely competing in a market economy, with government playing an enabling role, through smart regulation and infrastructure investment, by controlling vested interests who abuse monopolistic power, and by promoting open trading internationally, within Europe and beyond.
- Genuinely sustainable growth, respecting the environmental limits of our one planet, meeting true consumer needs, supporting small, local and community solutions, and recognising well-being not just wealth as the goal.
- Stakeholdership, including that of workers, customers, and society at large, being a primary concern in the constitution and profit allocation of businesses within a social market economy; and a recognition that current models of business that treat capital-holding shareholders as the only people with a stake in a business are fundamentally outdated and inadequate for the
Conference therefore welcomes policy paper 133, Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities: Proposals for a New Economy that Really Works for Everyone, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy on our approach to the economic challenges of the 21st Century, and in particular welcomes its proposals to:
- Create a fair economy that works for all by:
- Reforming the labour market to give control and choice back to workers, with additional rights for those in the gig economy, a powerful new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority to protect those in precarious work, and a 'Good Employer' kite mark to promote good firms.
- Investing in skills, in particular in lifelong opportunities for retraining, so people can better adjust to the fast-moving economy of the 21st Century, with a national skills strategy, an expanded skills and training levy, a plan to develop the workforce for high tech manufacturing industries needed to rebalance the economy and a new initiative – Lifelong Learning Entitlements.
- Setting immigration policies that support growth and meet key skills gaps, with a Canadian-style international mobility programme.
- Strengthening diversity and equality of opportunity in the workplace, with mandatory reporting of pay ratios and corrective action plans, and a fresh approach to modern trade unionism for stronger representation in new workplaces.
- Create a sustainable economy that works for future generations by:
- Reforming the ways companies and markets are governed to entrench a longer-term, more sustainable approach, with a new Companies Act for the 21st Century, so large companies fully reflect the interests of all stakeholders, serve the common good and are accountable for their actions - including an annual Fair Pay report and action plans on diversity.
- Making the UK a laboratory for new forms of enterprise, with a big boost to employee ownership by extending the Liberal Democrat 'employee ownership trust' scheme.
- Introducing an extended public interest test for takeovers that conflict with the national industrial strategy.
- Challenging the growing concentration of market power - including in energy, banking and the new 'tech titans' - with stronger regulation of monopolies, enhanced consumer protections, greater rights over data and by sharing economic benefits more widely through an innovative Citizens' Wealth Fund.
- Introducing a new 'right to repair' for consumer products, setting lifetime manufacturing standards and curbing costly waste and pollution.
- Harnessing the strength of the public sector balance sheet to open additional sources of finance for innovative business, the green economy and vital national infrastructure including hyper-fast broadband.
- Helping businesses to adapt to the challenges of the digital economy, with forward thinking 'automation plans' to prepare for change and a new approach to potentially disruptive technology.
- Building routes to secure funding for and thus incentivise starting new charitable and cooperative enterprises, in particular supporting the provision of low interest startup loans for such businesses.
- Create a balanced economy that works for the whole UK by:
- Devolving more powers on economic development to cities and regions within England, with enhanced flexibility on revenue generation and a focus on increasing local purchasing power.
- Developing sustainable cities as hubs of growth, concentrated around skills, housing and healthy environments - with increased transport connectivity within and between regions an essential component.
- Creating city and region integrated economic development plans, aligned with the national industrial strategy, based on specialist sector clusters and with close links to universities.
- Increasing access to finance and investment, with an enhanced mandate for the British Business Bank to catalyse private sector investment equally across the UK.
Applicability: Federal; except 1 b) (lines 54-58) and 3 a)-c) (lines 97-107) which are England only.