Industry’s factor

After months of anticipation, the election campaign proper finally got underway with the publication of the party manifestos. Labour has sought to occupy the central ground traditionally thought to be the Conservatives’ territory and has tried to reassur

Labour

`We will build a new partnership with business to improve the competitiveness of British industry for the 21st century. Many of the fundamentals of the British economy are still weak. Low pay and low skills go together; the absence of quality jobs is a product of the weakness of our industrial base; we suffer from both high unemployment and skills shortages. There is no future for Britain as a low wage economy. We need to win on higher quality, skill, innovation and realiability.’

Pledges

Small businesses: Cut unnecessary red tape; provide statutory interest on late payment of debts; improve support for high-tech start-ups; improve quality of advice and training through a reformed Business Links network; assist firms to enter overseas markets

Investment: Review of corporate and capital gains tax to promote long-term investment

* Regional Development Agencies to coordinate development, help small business and encourage inward investment

Competition: Reform of competition law with a tough prohibitive approach to anti-competitive practices

* Tough efficient regulation of the utilities, especially for the water industry which has a `poor environmental record’ and has been `a tax free zone.’

* Windfall levy on excess profits of privatised utilities to fund welfare-to-work scheme

Technology: Strengthen our capability in science, technology and design with a strong science base in universities; support for a collaborative approach between researchers and business to spread the use of new technology

Working conditions: 1980s trade union reforms to stay but minimum standards for the individual at work including a minimum wage. Freedom to join a trade union. Union to be recognised where a majority of the relevant workforce vote to be represented by it

* Support for EU Social Chapter but will `deploy influence in Europe to ensure that it develops to promote employability and competitiveness.’Energy and environment: Develop Britain’s environmental technology industries; a major push to promote energy conservation; energy policy to promote cleaner, more efficient energy use and production; a new drive to develop renewables and combined heat and power. No economic case to build new nuclear stations

Private Finance Initiative: Reinvigorate the PFI to restore rundown infrastructure by prioritising projects, realistically allocating risk and speeding up the planning process of major infrastructure projects

Conservatives

`Britain is now in its fifth year of growing faster than France or Germany. It attracts nearly 40% of all the American and Japanese investment in Europe. Our aim now is to safeguard these achievements and build on them, so Britain becomes the unrivalled enterprise centre of Europe.

`For enterprise to flourish, the state must get out of the way of the wealth creators.

`900,000 jobs have been created over the last four years. By contrast the European social model is stifling job creation on the Continent by imposing regulations and burdens on business. Curbing the power of trade unions, opening up markets and cutting red tape have given us a low strike, low cost economy.

`The only way Britain will be able to compete and win in world markets is by sticking to the Conservative policies that are delivering success. We should not risk this progress by adopting the very policies that have made the Continent uncompetitive.’

Pledges

Small businesses: Cut the small companies’ rate of corporation tax in line with personal taxation as we move towards a 20p tax rate

* Reduce the burden of capital gains tax and inheritance tax as prudent

* Reform business rates to reduce the cost that falls upon small businesses

* Introduce `sunset’ requirements into new regulations so that they are automatically reviewed or dropped after a specific period

* Benefits of new regulations to be justified against costs

Technology: Use the Millennium Lottery Fund to transform the computer facilities and information links in schools, libraries, museums and other public places

Competition: Competition bill to give greater protection against price fixing, dumping and other restrictive practices

Working conditions: No Conservative Government will sign up to the Social Chapter or introduce a national minimum wage. Insist at the intergovernmental conference that opt-out is honoured and Britain is exempted from Working Time Directive