Owning the future

  • Chuka Umunna MP

    “Each business featured here will have its own inspiring story to tell”

Commentary by Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Once again, London Stock Exchange Group has done a stellar job of bringing together this latest version of 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain. It does exactly what it says on the tin, showcasing some of the brightest stars in the UK business firmament. The recognition of these companies is deserved, and it is right to celebrate their success. 

Each business featured here will have its own inspiring story to tell about how it began, what motivated its growth and how it overcame the challenges it faced along the way. Individually, these stories can inspire us. But together, they do so much more: they allow us to imagine the possibilities for Britain’s economic future; the kinds of secure, well-paid jobs we could be creating more of; the levels of productivity and balance of growth we could be achieving; and the success we could be enjoying in markets around the world. They give us confidence that we can build an economy where the opportunities of tomorrow are better than today, and where all can have a stake in our nation’s future.

We know from recent experience that growth is necessary but insufficient on its own to raise living standards and balance the books. It matters, too, if the gains of growth are being widely shared and if the jobs created offer security today and hope for tomorrow. This is critical, because there are deep-seated problems in our economy we must address. Problems of a trade deficit that has lasted for four decades. Problems of productivity, with output per hour in the UK 17 percentage points below the average of our G7 rivals, the widest gap since 1992. And problems of a stubbornly persistent fiscal deficit – not helped because tax receipts remain low in an economy where the share of low-paid jobs is among the highest in the OECD. 

As the high-growth, high-productivity, job-creating firms recognised in this publication show, we can already see a different future for Britain in pockets of our economy. Our challenge is to broaden this success – firm by firm, sector by sector, region by region – to make the most of global opportunities and ensure that the gains of growth are widely shared. As I said in the book I published in August 2014, we must ensure that everyone can “own the future”. For this, we must make Britain not just a good place to start a new firm, but a great place to grow a business to its full potential.

For Labour, this means addressing the finance, skills and technology gaps that hold too many firms back, with an ambitious and coordinated industrial strategy. It requires continued investment in our science base and system of innovation, while giving cities and regions the power to shape their own destinies.

We need government to back business success, new ideas and apprenticeship training through the way it procures goods and services, and a new US-style small business administration to draw together business support. And it means investing in all our people, connecting all of the next generation with opportunity, and developing vocational pathways that are as clear to follow and as valued as the pathway to university.

We need this to begin in school, with the introduction of a new technical baccalaureate, before connecting young people to high-quality apprenticeships and then to new technical degrees for those who want them. 

The success of these 1,000 companies shows us what is possible and gives us a glimpse of the future economy Britain could have. As we celebrate their success, our challenge is to make it easier for more firms to succeed on this scale, building a strong, resilient and balanced economy that benefits all.