Labour is not planning a “war on business”, Jeremy Corbyn has insisted, as he told the CBI Brexit should be a catalyst for economic transformation.
He defended plans to give employees shares in their firms, saying despite the “frenzied reaction” in some quarters, it would “strengthen” them.
The “rules of the game” on boardroom pay and financial regulation needed to change to address inequality, he said.
The CBI said Labour should work with business, not seek to control it.
Labour is committed to nationalising Royal Mail, the train operating companies, water firms in England and Wales and some parts of the energy network in a series of market interventions which the Conservatives have said will see borrowing increase by up to £1 trillion.
Mr Corbyn told business leaders that the plans were part of a radical programme of “industrial and economic renewal” needed after years of under-investment and economic deregulation.
“Rigid and outdated” economic thinking, he said, had contributed to widening inequality, with 20% of the country’s wealth in the hands of only 1% of the population.
The UK’s “profoundly unbalanced economy” had been a factor in the Brexit vote, he said, and the UK’s departure from the EU must lead to “real change”
Business must play its part in boosting productivity and ensuring prosperity was shared more equally, particularly in areas of the country that felt “left behind” in recent years.
He defended plans to force all large firms to put 1% of their share capital aside every year to give workers up to £500 in shares and to use the remainder to fund public services and welfare.
“Despite the frenzied reaction in certain sections of the press, there certainly is not any kind of war on business,” he said of the plans. “Actually it is the opposite, rather.
“We recognise the vast and vital contribution businesses make to our society and our economy and at the heart of that contribution are your employees.
“They have an interest in the long-term success of your company…Workers create profits. Giving workers a share in them is not just fair, it is good for business.”
‘Command and control’
Successive cuts in corporation tax bills since 2010 had not led to more investment or a better deal for workers, he said, and it was right the UK’s largest firms paid more tax under a Labour government for the benefit of the “common good”.
“It could not be clearer. Business as usual is not working. And when the rules of the game are not working for the overwhelming majority, the rules of the game need to change.
“That means a new settlement for business and a stronger say for the workforce where government will drive a higher rate of investment in infrastructure, education, skills and the exciting new technologies of the future.
“The largest businesses that can afford it will pay a little bit more towards the common good from which we will all benefit.”
The CBI’s director general Carolyn Fairbairn said UK plc was prepared to work with Mr Corbyn to build an economy that was both fair and more competitive.
But she warned a “command and control” approach to the economy would alienate business.
“Labour and business do share an ambition to tackle inequality, but the way to achieve this is through collaboration based on the belief that enterprise is a force for good,” she said.