A major Labour Party donor who founded a cross-party manufacturing think tank has spoken of the “huge opportunity” Sir Keir Starmer has to trump the Government by focusing on the sector.
John Mills, who set up the Institute for Prosperity last year, said next week’s Budget may be the moment when many former Labour voters realise that they have been “let down” by the Tory government and could start flooding back to the party.
At the same time, he urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to put manufacturing at the heart of his spending plans or risk losing voters gained in the so-called Red Wall.
Mr Mills, who has donated millions to Labour, said the Budget was a “veritable golden opportunity” for Sir Keir, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and the Labour Party to steal a march on the Tories, adding it was an opportunity to point out that the Chancellor does not actually have a tangible plan to level up the country.
He said the Tory Party has been “found out for its bluster” but the onus is on the leadership of the Labour Party to make the message clear and get the economy growing again outside of London and the South East.
Businessman Mr Mills, who founded consumer goods distribution company JML, added that reviving the UK’s manufacturing base is “the only way” to properly level up the country.
He said: “I’m optimistic about the prospects of the Labour Party. This is the moment when the Tories could be found out for their empty promises to level up the country at the last election.
“Many long-standing Labour Party voters lent their votes to the Tories on the promise that they would introduce policies to level up the country and revive our manufacturing heartlands.
“But when you look at the latest manufacturing data, you see that we are continuing to slide in the wrong direction.”
He said Labour had “struggled to cut through” to voters but now he said it was key to “point out to the rest of the country that the Government has absolutely no plan to get the country and manufacturing growing again”.
He added: “It is all tax cuts and empty promises.
“This is the moment when former Labour voters could realise that they have been let down by the Conservative government.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw former Labour voters flood back to the party after this Budget if the Government doesn’t start taking manufacturing seriously.”
A Government spokesperson insisted that ministers were “wholeheartedly committed to supporting UK manufacturing and recognises the vital role it plays in the UK economy”.
They said: “Which is why we are investing billions in relevant education, research and development, and are creating thousands of highly-skilled new manufacturing jobs across the country.
“These commitments include extensive tax breaks, £147 million invested to help UK manufacturers slash carbon emissions and drive up productivity, £500 million annually in T-Levels, and supporting the creation of three million quality apprenticeships across the economy.
“The UK’s economic outlook is bright with the fastest rate of growth in the G7, wages rising and unemployment falling.”
However, Mr Mills said reviving manufacturing was the only way to achieve levelling up and narrow regional inequalities.
He said: “The reason that living standards, rates of growth and productivity have been so poor in many parts of the country is because our manufacturing heartlands have been hollowed out.
“Reversing this economic decline requires us to reverse the underlying cause. We need to get manufacturing going again. It is the only way to level up the country.”