Jeremy Corbyn has denied that Labour’s plans to bring utilities back into public ownership is a “throwback to a bygone era”.
In a speech at the CBI’s annual conference in London yesterday, the Labour leader also attacked water companies over their “opaque financial arrangements”.
Corbyn, in his second address at the business confederation’s conference responded to jibes by chancellor Philip Hammond that Labour’s public ownership drive would take the UK back to the 1970s.
He said: “This isn’t a throwback to a bygone era; it’s entirely in step with what is happening in the rest of the world.
“Some of the world’s biggest economies – Germany, France, even the United States are deciding that key sectors such as energy and water are better off in public ownership. It’s time for Britain to catch up. Not by allowing a select few to make monopoly profits from our essential utilities.”
“It’s not good for the image of business when water companies pay out billions in dividend and interest payments through opaque financial arrangements, while households see their bills go up to pay for it.”
Corby said that the provision of “cheap and reliable energy” and “safe and efficient water” would enhance the UK’s attractiveness as a business location.
“It’s not good for business people if their employees have to spend huge amounts of time and money getting to and from work each day on expensive and unreliable services.
“It is not good for manufacturers to have among the most expensive energy in Europe, or see energy transition held back because the necessary investments to transform our energy grid are not being made.”
Corbyn told business leaders that Labour’s proposed National Transformation Fund would invest in energy. And he pledged that decarbonisation of the energy system was one of the “national missions” that the party’s industrial strategy would deliver if elected to government.
At a conference organised by the Tory think tank Bright Blue last week, former Conservative MP Laura Sandys said that the popularity of Labour’s public ownership plans chimed with a wider sense of injustice about energy costs.
She said that the industry needed to respond more effectively to Labour’s proposals more effectively than it had to concerns about rising energy bills.
“It was on the agenda for years and the sector didn’t respond effectively to take it off the agenda. We need to reconnect with the justice issue that Labour is responding to in the wrong way.”
James Heappey, Conservative MP and former member of the House of Commons energy and climate change select committee, said that handing households greater control over low carbon energy was the best way to counter Labour’s public ownership plans.
“The best way to kill off any romanticism about nationalising the energy system is to aggressively let this clean tech win through so that it becomes part of people’s lives.”
“If they can see the benefits of competition and innovation, nationalising is not going to be better.”
Former Npower chief executive Paul Massara told the Bright Blue event that spending billions of pounds on buying back utilities was “bad economics” and would not deliver improved performance.