Jeremy Hunt has said he will address labour supply issues and business investment when he delivers an “autumn statement for growth” next week.
The Chancellor claimed the Government is starting to “win the battle” against inflation – with new statistics expected on Wednesday – which he argued allows him to “focus on the next stage”.
He gave a preview of the November 22 fiscal event after also dismissing Labour’s criticism of the Government’s legislative plans contained in the King’s Speech.
Mr Hunt’s remarks came after a session of Treasury questions in which he faced Conservative calls to lower taxes and scrap the so-called “factory tax”, which relates to the inability to fully expense investments in machinery and buildings.
Mr Hunt used the Budget in March to announce a three-year policy of “full expensing” to ensure every single pound a company invests in IT equipment, plant or machinery can be deducted in full and immediately from taxable profit.
Labour and Tory MPs have urged Mr Hunt to make this a permanent change, with the Chancellor noting this would be a £10 billion commitment if implemented.
Speaking on day five of the King’s Speech debate, Mr Hunt told the Commons: “As we start to win the battle against inflation, we can focus on the next stage which is growth. So next week we will see an autumn statement for growth.
“Because no business can expand without hiring additional staff, I will address labour supply issues to help fill the nearly one million vacancies we have, working with the excellent Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride).
“This will build on the 30 hours of free childcare offer that I announced for all eligible children over nine months in the Spring Budget.
“I will also focus on increasing business investment because, despite the fact that our growth has been faster than many of our European neighbours, our productivity is still lower.”
Mr Hunt claimed the King’s Speech will deliver “more growth, more jobs, more pay, more opportunity and more prosperity”, adding in a dig at Labour: “Not following the easy path of opening the national chequebook, maxing the country’s credit card by borrowing £28 billion a year more.
“But a path that is more difficult, yes, but more durable and one that will turn us into one of the most prosperous countries in Europe.”
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves earlier described the King’s Speech as a “lost opportunity for our country”, saying: “It’s as if ministers have rummaged down the back of the sofa and found legislative loose change, a broken biro, some old Bills covered in fluff, and now even an old prime minister.”
She added: “The Government’s King’s Speech was a lost opportunity for our country. No legislation to reform the antiquated planning process, to accelerate decision around our critical national infrastructure; instead, planning processes continue to hold back the success of our offshore wind sector, life sciences, and 5G.
“No pension reforms to encourage growing British companies to stay here, instead being forced abroad for funding, which contributes to the UK’s stagnating growth.
“No serious plan to help get energy bills down, the energy price cap has increased by a half this Parliament.”
Ms Reeves went on to say Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is spending “more time polishing his CV, in conversation with Elon Musk, than fighting for the livelihoods of manufacturing workers in Scunthorpe, in Port Talbot, or in Derby”.
Ms Reeves’ comments follow a conversation between the tech entrepreneur and the Prime Minister at the Summit on Artificial Intelligence which took place at the beginning of November.
Mr Hunt later said concerns about steelworkers are “absolutely at the top of my mind as we try and chart a better future for British Steel”.
Ministers have come under pressure to guarantee steel can continue to be made in the UK amid concerns over British Steel’s proposals to close blast furnaces at its Scunthorpe plant.
Unions fear up to 2,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the Chinese-owned company planning to replace blast furnaces with two electric arc versions that can run on zero-carbon electricity, if it gets “appropriate support from the UK Government”.