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Labour Deploys Goldman Alum to Repair UK Business Relations

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(Bloomberg) -- A former Conservative minister and Goldman Sachs chief economist has crossed the political divide to help Britain’s Labour opposition in its bid to win over the business community.

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Jim O’Neill, who served as a Treasury minister in David Cameron and Theresa May’s governments, is among a number of business figures joining a review into UK startups that is being launched by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves on Thursday.

The review is part of Labour’s broader “pro-worker, pro-business” plan for growth. It’s also a direct challenge to the ruling Conservative Party, which brands itself as the natural party of business but has been accused of lacking an economic policy.

Relations between business and Boris Johnson’s government have suffered following the decision to exit the European Union. The rift flared up most recently after a series of tax increases and a dispute with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Four years ago, Johnson reportedly said “f**k business” at the height of anxieties over a hard Brexit, which would have cut the UK off from EU markets.

A Labour spokesman was unapologetic about “parking our tanks on the Tories’ lawn.”

When Labour last came to power, under Tony Blair in 1997, a good relationship with business was pivotal. Blair’s chancellor, Gordon Brown, held a series of meetings with business executives dubbed the “prawn cocktail offensive.”

The review is part of Labour’s aim to reset relations with UK business. Reeves on a mission to woo bosses on a “smoked salmon and scrambled eggs offensive” that has seen her meet 180 executives for breakfast in recent months.

The review will look into:

  • Ensure new and growing companies have access to capital

  • Making it easier for firms to list in London

  • The right incentives and skills compared to other countries

  • How public procurement works for start-ups

“Britain has immense resources in the creativity and drive of our entrepreneurs, and the innovative capacity of our universities,” said Reeves, a former Bank of England economist.

“But I have heard a worry about the small number of start-ups listing in the UK and the stubborn obstacles preventing many from scaling up. Labour’s mission is to build an institutional ecosystem offering the access, finance, and skills that new and growing businesses need.”

O’Neill popularized the rise of the BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- when he served at Goldman Sachs.

He’s joined on the panel by Alex Depledge, chief executive and co-founder of Resi.co.uk, the UK’s largest home improvement platform; Tom Adeyoola, former chief executive and founder of acquired apparel technology scale-up Metail; and Julie Devonshire, director of the Entrepreneurship Institute at King’s College London.

The panel’s first meeting set for July, with an aim to publish the review in the Autumn around the time of the chancellor’s next budget.

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