This week Ed Miliband promised that Labour would be the “party of business” if it wins the general election.
Still over a year away from the ballot, he said Labour would support “great British businesses”, outlining a wealth of policies that he claimed would “build a new economy”.
Chief among these was a promise to devolve more power to the regions, to stop London attracting all the attention - and all the wealth - and to allow other cities and towns to take greater control of infrastructure plans and the money to make them happen.
Mr Miliband described these as “historic new powers over transport, housing, skills and economic development”.
Five years ago it was the Conservatives who were pushing hardest for the public to see them as the party of localism and devolution in the run-up to the general election. This time around it seems Labour wants to own that argument.
There is a big financial incentive - Labour is promising £20bn over the next parliament to cities that can prove they are worth it, with local authority chief executives, LEPs and university leaders being asked to begin drawing up proposals now for how they would spend the prize.
“Compare Labour’s caution over the £42.6bn price tag for High Speed 2. Per year, this amounts to far more”
The money will have to either come from other areas or, more likely, be moved from existing transport, housing, skills and other funding pots.
It’s a huge amount. Compare Labour’s caution over the £42.6bn price tag for High Speed 2. Per year, this amounts to far more.
Devolving money and power to the regions is one way to address what many see as London and the South-east’s monopoly on economic growth. But procurement expertise is crucial.
Local authorities need to be able to get projects off the ground quickly and efficiently. Politicians must tackle the growing procurement divide between central government and cash-strapped local authorities.
Points of contention
Construction businesses will want other questions answered, too.
“How does Mr Miliband’s promise to back British business benefit non-British businesses, which represent an increasingly large proportion of the nation’s employers?”
How do Mr Miliband’s promises to be the party of business sit with his announcement, within the same speech, that Labour will introduce new rules on executive pay, for example?
Many businesses will see this as a brake on growth, not a spur.
And how does Mr Miliband’s promise to back British business benefit non-British businesses, which represent an increasingly large proportion of the nation’s employers?
Compared with the UK’s last recovery, many more construction products firms and manufacturers in particular now have overseas parent companies.
If Mr Miliband wants to convince businesses he’s their champion, he’ll need to do a lot more to join up the dots.
That and get his speeches wider coverage - national pick-up was weak. All business leaders know that sometimes you need to make the headlines.