Election 2017

Food and drink sector reacts to Conservatives’ manifesto

Manufacturing representatives react to Theresa May's manifesto (Conservatives)

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) applauded the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto, while other industry representatives had concerns about immigration restrictions.

The Conservatives pledged to boost trade with countries outside of the EU, cut corporation tax to 17%, and to invest in innovation, and research and development.

The FDF welcomed the Tory’s ambition to grow more British food, sell more and export more food and drink products. Conservatives’ leader Theresa May’s pledge to make sure there was no “cliff-edge” effect after Brexit was highlighted by FDF director general Ian Wright.

“It is reassuring to hear the prime minister’s commitment to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit, and particularly as frictionless a border as possible between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Food and farming is the sector most impacted by Brexit and we believe securing the right deal to avoid any cliff edge is the most pressing task facing the new government.”

The Conservatives’ pledge to forge a new exporting culture among UK businesses was also welcomed by Wright.

Conservatives’ key pledges
  • Cut net migration to below 100,000
  • Increase levies for firms employing non-EU migrant workers
  • Maintain corporation tax at 17%
  • Smooth Brexit transition

‘Untapped exporting potential’

“There is huge untapped exporting potential within our industry and we must take advantage of increased demand for UK products overseas,” said Wright.

EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said manufacturers would welcome the pledge to keep corporate tax at a reduced 17%. Sticking with current business tax plans provided manufacturers with stability and predictability for business, it said.

But, EEF criticised May’s hard Brexit plans.

EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler said: “The prime minister rightly says that achieving a smooth and orderly Brexit is a priority, but she continues to say no deal is better than a bad deal. The two are incompatible as leaving the EU without a deal is a recipe for chaos.”

Scuoler also said there appeared to be no rationale for doubling the immigration skills charge, other than “sending some kind of signal to a section of the electorate”.

“If the aim is to make it more difficult for companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to access the skills they, and the economy, urgently need, then this will do the trick,” he said.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also had concerns over the Conservatives’ immigration policies.

‘An Achilles heel’

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “The Conservative manifesto has an Achilles heel. In a global race for talent and innovation, UK firms risk being left in the starting blocks because of a blunt approach to immigration.

“The next government can both control migration and support prosperity – it does not need to be an either-or choice.”

Fairbairn said businesses would be heartened by its pledge to increase spending on research and development, however. A commitment to act on business rates, and keeping corporation tax at 17%, would be welcomed by firms, she said.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) welcomed Theresa May’s vow to maintain business rates relief. A thriving small business community was vital to a post-Brexit economy, it said.

The Conservative pledge to introduce a national insurance holiday for businesses employing ex-offenders, people with disabilities, and chronic mental health conditions, was also praised by the FSB.

Meanwhile, the FDF broadly welcomed Labour’s manifesto, while business leaders had mixed views on the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto.

What they say about the Conservatives manifesto
  • “We support the Conservative Party’s ambition to grow more, sell more and export more great British food and drink. It is reassuring to hear the prime minister’s commitment to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit, and particularly as frictionless a border as possible between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

Ian Wright, FDF

  • “The Conservative Party’s manifesto gives business a clear and welcome commitment to a comprehensive industrial strategy, which we applaud. There appears to be no rationale to justify doubling the immigration skills charge, other than the need to send some kind of signal to a section of the electorate.”

Terry Scuoler, EEF

  • “Firms will be heartened by proposed increased research and development spending, planned corporation tax reductions and a commitment to act on business rates. In a global race for talent and innovation UK firms risk being left in the starting blocks because of a blunt approach to immigration.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI

  • “We welcome that Theresa May is not seeking a mandate to reintroduce the failed strivers tax on the self-employed, which was dropped following the last budget. Last month, the immigration skills charge was introduced on employing some non-EU migrant workers. We welcomed at the time the government’s decision to have a much lower charge for smaller business employers.”

Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses

  • “I welcome the strong emphasis on supporting business and the important role that small businesses play in our economy. The proposals on business rates strongly echo changes where the British Beer and Pub Association has been leading calls for reform, with a full review of the system promised, a commitment to more frequent revaluations, and in particular, addressing the issue of online businesses, given that pubs shoulder such an unfair burden at present.”

Brigid Simmonds, British Beer and Pub Association

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