Miliband outlines plans to reward 'producers' and punish 'predators'
Giving public sector contracts only to businesses offering apprenticeships were among the measures aimed at rewarding entrepreneurs who benefit society outlined in Ed Miliband's party conference speech.
Speaking at the event in Liverpool, the Labour leader challenged the view that all businesses are the same and called for rewards linked to the long-term value they generate and the wealth they create.
"Are you on the side of the wealth creators or the asset strippers?", Miliband asked delegates. "The producers or the predators? Producers train, invest, invent, sell.
"Predators are just interested in the fast buck, taking what they can out of the business. This isn’t about one industry that’s good and another that isn’t. Or one firm always destined to be a predator and another to be a producer. It’s about different ways of doing business, ways that the rules of our economy can favour or discourage."
Continuing what is seen as the most important speech of the year for party leaders, the politician said "predators" and "producers" should not be treated the same when it comes to tax and regulation. If Labour comes to power after the next election, he claimed, the party will reward the "good" businesses.
"All major government contracts will go to firms who commit to training the next generation with decent apprenticeships," he commented. "And none will go to those who don’t.
"And it is also why I say, the new bargain in our economy must be built on co-operation not conflict in the workplace. Raising productivity, working together, helping firms to compete. That is the most important future for the trade unions in this country. And we must challenge irresponsible, predatory practices wherever we find them."
Business groups reacted to the speech with scepticism.
John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Small businesses already struggle to win public sector contracts and insisting that they must offer an apprenticeship will mean that they miss out on more.
"While more than 60% of apprenticeships take place in small businesses, until firms win more business they will not have the confidence to take on additional staff. Policies such as this will only make the problem worse."
Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors, added: "We would like to know how Ed Miliband plans to identify and reward ‘good’ companies over ‘bad’ ones. In practice, we think he would find this neither straightforward nor desirable. He should have more faith in customers and investors to decide.
"In the modern business place price is not the sole determining factor affecting people’s buying and investment decisions. Consumers and investors are better equipped and better informed than ever to impose discipline on firms than any government.
"Instead of proposing that the state makes choices that are likely to be simplistic and wrong he would be wiser to find ways of boosting competition so that the customer remains king."
The response was the unions however was positive.
Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: "Ed Miliband may have taken the stage a year ago as a young man but today he emerged as a senior politician with courage, conviction and honesty. He is his own man not afraid to stand up against the likes of Murdoch and the rest of the elite."