Enterprise and skills will be at heart of a Labour third term, pledges Blair

2005

Labour is the "party of enterprise", and will put tackling Britain's skills and productivity gaps at the heart of a third term, should it be re-elected on May 5, Tony Blair has said.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown yesterday unveiled their business manifesto, amid concerns from industry that the UK's reputation as the business location of choice is under threat.

The Confederation of British Industry has warned that, whichever party is elected next Thursday, its first decisions in power will be crucial in defining how Britain's overseas competitors view us.

Blair and Brown, who have spent much of the election campaigning together, said they would set up a "manufacturing skills academy" and increase the number of apprenticeships to 300,000.

Britain had never been so productive, created so much wealth or so many jobs, stressed Blair.

But he warned that countries such as India and China were now competing hard with the UK on skills as well as costs.

Those two countries alone produced 125,000 computer science graduates every year, more than twice the whole of the European Union, he said.

"British business can rise to these challenges, competing successfully in an ever more competitive global economy," he said.

"We fought very hard to establish our reputation as the party of entrepreneurship - it's not a reputation we want to lose," he added. Brown said Labour would increase the number of apprenticeships by 75,000 in the next Parliament, raising the total to 300,000 by 2008 and setting a new goal of 330,000 by 2010.

"We will make the historic commitment that every young person will have, for the first time, the opportunity of education or training to the age of 18 and by 2006 offer enterprise training in every skill," he said.

There would be more deregulation, with one million fewer inspections of business. He also proposed that the local authority regulatory regime should be reformed to further reduce the red tape and regulation burden.

Investment in science would rise from £1.3bn in 1997 to £3.4bn a year by 2007, he added.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have both already published their business manifestos.

The Conservatives' business manifesto, entitled Action for Business, has pledged to cut the burden of red tape on British businesses.

The party has also proposed a 10-point action plan promising lower business taxes and more support for exporters.

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to carry out what they called the "single biggest act of deregulation in history" by abolishing the Department of Trade and Industry and transferring functions to other departments.

Among their proposals is a plan to appoint a "minister for business" and to carry out "impact assessments" on each new piece of legislation.