Britain's Hammond seeks to repair damaged ties to business community

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - British finance minister Philip Hammond will look to reassure businesses that they remain at the heart of the center-right Conservatives’ plan for the economy, against a backdrop of heightened tension over Brexit.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, leaves 11 Downing Street in London, March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Britain’s exit from the European Union next March has increased uncertainty for employers, with talks about the future relationship between the world’s fifth largest economy and it largest trading partner becoming increasingly fraught.

Hammond will seek to repair relations with a business community which has expressed frustration over the government’s lack of clarity during the Brexit process and what some see as a decision to put ideology before the economy.

“We back business, as the cornerstone of a successful economy; as a force for good in our society; and as an essential expression of our values,” Hammond will say in his speech to the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

Ahead of the conference, the British Chambers of Commerce said it wanted the Conservatives to overcome their internal divisions and “to deliver real-world, practical answers to business’s ongoing questions around Brexit – and avoid a messy and disorderly exit from the EU.”

Relations suffered earlier this year when then-foreign minister Boris Johnson was quoted dismissing business leaders’ concerns about Brexit, using foul language in a meeting with EU diplomats.

The government has since adopted a more business friendly negotiating strategy, but is struggling to win support from both Brussels and May’s own Conservative Party, raising fears talks may end without a deal and disrupt firms’ supply chains.

Last week, Britain’s opposition Labour Party sought to woo business bosses even as it unveiled a raft of radical economic policies, saying that the Conservatives had given them the opportunity to pitch an alternative leftist strategy.

Hammond will seek to address what the government has identified as one of the root causes of 2016’s surprise vote to leave the EU and a poor showing at a 2017 national election: a failure to share the benefits of the modern capitalist economy more evenly.

“Too many people have experienced years of slow wage growth, felt less secure in their jobs and seen the housing market spiral beyond their reach,” he will say.

“So the challenge is to ensure that 21st Century capitalism delivers for them; to convince them that our vision of Britain’s future can meet their aspirations and that our plan, unlike Labour’s, will actually deliver a better tomorrow for them and their families.”

He will announce investment into training in core subject like science and maths and a series of initiatives to improve productivity within Britain’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Reporting by William James. Editing by Jane Merriman

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