The shadow chancellor is set to announce a British infrastructure council with some of Britain’s biggest companies as she seeks to make Labour the party of business.
Rachel Reeves will host the first meeting of the business council with five leading companies — Lloyds, Santander, HSBC, Fidelity and Phoenix.
The council was due to be announced at the Labour Party conference but was delayed after senior Tories became aware of the plans and intervened.
Reeves is establishing the council on a shadow basis before making it an “advisory council to the chancellor” if Labour wins the next election. The council will be tasked with “unleashing the lifeblood of investment through the industrial arteries of this country”.
A Labour spokesman said: “Labour are in discussions with a number of businesses about working with us in an independent advisory capacity. We will confirm details in due course.”
The infrastructure council was intended to be Reeves’s flagship announcement at the party conference. However, some of the businesses involved pulled out after senior Tories became aware of the plans and contacted them. Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, even contacted one of the businesses directly.
Aviva and Blackstone were originally listed as attendees for the summit but are no longer involved. Other businesses remained supportive and Labour was able to attract new companies to the council.
The episode highlighted the battle behind the scenes as both parties seek to portray themselves as the party of business before the general election. Reeves and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, have embarked on a charm offensive with the City in an effort to win more support.
It is understood from a draft press release from Labour that was written before the original announcement was shelved. Reeves was intending to tell the conference: “I want Britain’s industries to thrive and for us to stand proud on the world stage once more.
“I want working people to feel the benefits of economic growth, good jobs and pride in homegrown industry. That is why I have announced Labour’s plan to invest in Britain. A plan to make, do and sell more here at home. With an aim to restore investment as a share of GDP to the level it was under the last Labour government. Billions of extra spending, by business, on what they need to compete: new machinery, new buildings and new innovations.
“Today I can announce that Labour will form a new British infrastructure council, tasked with unleashing the lifeblood of investment through the industrial arteries of this country. And I am pleased to say that leading investors, with assets totalling £90 billion, have agreed to join that council and to work with us in opposition as we develop our plans.”
On Sunday, Reeves criticised suggestions that the Tories were prioritising cutting inheritance tax. She told BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “Cutting inheritance tax in the middle of a massive cost of living crisis and when public services are on their knees is not the right priority. I understand people’s desire to pass on to their children what they have worked hard for, but right now that is not the right thing to do and we would not support it.”
The shadow chancellor also rejected Hunt’s argument that he needed to take “difficult decisions” on welfare payments.
Typically, ministers use the September figure for inflation when uprating working-age benefits, which would mean a 6.7 per cent hike. However, the chancellor has been considering using October’s far lower figure of 4.6 per cent, which economists say would cut spending by about £3 billion.
The savings would largely affect working-age households receiving disability or means-tested benefits, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Reeves said benefits should rise by the higher figure, adding: “If you pick and choose from year to year which inflation number is the cheapest thing to do, then what you see is the gradual erosion of people’s incomes.”