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Official Portrait of Keir Starmer

[Picture: Official portrait of Sir Keir Starmer, from Parliament's website (source)]

Infrastructure and housing were at the heart of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s speech yesterday (10 October) to his party’s conference in Liverpool. The speech included a pledge to build ‘a new generation of new towns’ and supporting infrastructure.

At the centre of what is likely to be his final conference speech before a general election, Starmer also set out his vision across several other policy areas.

Home territory

Promising to build 1.5 million new homes over five years, should his party win the next election, the Labour leader said the dream of home ownership was becoming increasingly remote for many, despite the fact it can serve as a “springboard” for families’ ambitions.

He also proposed new development corporations “with the power to remove blockages” to construction.

Alongside new housing would come new infrastructure, he said, adding that a Labour government would “fight the blockers” and the “land-bankers” who were limiting development in the UK. He said he would also “bulldoze” planning laws that stood in the way of new housing and growth.

The Holborn and St Pancras MP reassured listeners that “no, this does not mean we’ll tear up the green belt”, but that “ridiculous uses of it” would be identified for adjustment, allowing new construction projects. The Labour Party was the one that instituted the green belt in the first place, Starmer noted, reasserting its environmental commitments.

Four-step plan

While there was little talk directly on trade from in Starmer's speech, he said it was time to reform the UK’s ability to handle large industrial ports.

Starmer’s strategy for growth was laid out as a four-step plan beginning with a National Wealth Fund.

The National Wealth Fund would see “government and the private sector working hand-in-glove to rebuild the country, with investment in critical infrastructure, including ports that can finally handle large industrial parts”.

Having heard shadow ministers reiterate, throughout conference events, the challenging financial position a future Labour government would inherit if elected, Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) UK public affairs lead, Grace Thompson was interested in the political strategy behind the National Wealth Fund approach:

“The idea of wedding business and government interests together in this fund, to deepen the chances of growth, and hold shared accountability, is quite a clever one.”

Steps two and three include support for industry in the form of “long-term stability for researchers, investors and innovators”, alongside the creation of Technical Excellence Colleges, with closer links to industry to provide the skills needed.

On these colleges, Thompson adds:

“The international trade world will be eager to see what potential these colleges hold for increasing skills in a way which is beneficial to actors across supply chains.”

Step four was laid out by Starmer very simply – “a new mindset”, reflecting the need to take opportunities which are “there to be won”. 

Growth focus

The speech was comparatively short on new policy announcements, several of the major points having already been mentioned earlier in the conference. But Starmer was keen to highlight that economic growth was at the heart of his agenda for government.

Even issues such as NHS reform were framed as a means of facilitating growth. Clearing the backlog of unperformed operations was, he highlighted in an interview this morning (11 September) with Radio 4, a way of getting some who were unable to work back in a position to do so.

He added that the NHS has until now been a “sickness service”, and that its focus should shift towards preventing illness as far as possible.

Local boost

The speech followed a panel session jointly hosted by IOE&IT and the New Statesman, which focused on the export potential of the UK’s regions.

The BBC reports an additional announcement from the Labour Party aimed at boosting regional development, not mentioned directly in Starmer’s speech, which included handing additional powers to local mayors on housing budgets and planning.

Labour mayor of South Yorkshire, Oliver Coppard, said regional leaders like him have “huge” potential under any Labour government.