Labour conference: Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves accuses Rishi Sunak of being missing in action amid supply crisis

Rachel Reeves has accused Chancellor Rishi Sunak of being “missing in action” during the country’s supply crisis, telling Labour’s conference that the government has “lost control”.

Addressing the party’s gathering in Brighton, the shadow chancellor hit out at the Conservatives over the energy crisis, panic buying at petrol stations and supply chain issues.

“This government is incompetent, this government is in denial, this government is careless and chaotic, and they are responsible for this mess,” she said.

Live updates from the Labour Party conference in Brighton

“Just look at the state of things under the Tories. Empty shelves in our supermarkets, snaking queues at petrol stations, business waiting weeks for materials, the NHS forced to ration blood tests, the government have to issue reassurance that they can even keep the lights on.

“Real anxiety for families and for business. And Rishi Sunak missing in action. The Tories have lost control.

“These problems have been exposed by the government’s Brexit deal, by their response to the pandemic and by a failure to plan for either.”

Speaking to Sky News ahead of her first conference speech in the role, Ms Reeves said Brexit is “obviously a contributory factor” to the shortage of HGV drivers that is having a knock-on effect across the economy.

In the speech itself, the shadow chancellor:

• Pledged to be the first “green chancellor” and invest £28bn a year for the rest of the decade for the country’s green transition, with money focused on “good jobs in the green industries of the future”
• Confirmed pre-briefed announcements that Labour will scrap business rates if it wins the next election as part of the “biggest overhaul of business taxation in a generation”, as well as end charitable status for private schools
• Called for an increase in the digital services tax to 12% for the next year in order to make online firms like Amazon pay their fair share and declared, referring to founder Jeff Bezos: “If you can afford to fly to space, you can pay your taxes here on Earth”

Analysis by Kate McCann, political correspondent

The shadow chancellor told delegates that she wanted to “clean up the Tories’ Brexit mess”.

“I’m more than happy to take on the Tories when it comes to economic competence because I know we can win,” she added.

On taxation, Ms Reeves promised to make the system “fairer” by ensuring that the “burden isn’t just falling on the wages of working people but that those at the top pay their fair share too”.

“I pledge that as chancellor I will not balance the books on the backs of working people,” she said.

Ms Reeves pledged to focus in particular on tax breaks, scrapping any that do not “deliver for the economy or the taxpayer”.

“Here are a couple we will scrap right away. Under the Conservative Party, private equity bosses who asset strip British businesses pay a lower rate of tax on their bonuses than their workers do on their wages,” she said.

“That is indefensible, we will scrap it.”

The shadow chancellor also put firms that have secured COVID contracts on notice, telling them that a future Labour government would expect money back from those that have not delivered.

Hitting out at the Tories’ “pandemic outsourcing bonanza”, she added: “We will set up a team to go through every line of every failed contract where value was not delivered, and claw back every penny of taxpayers’ money we possibly can.

“Because that money belongs in our police. It belongs in our schools and it belongs in our NHS.”

But, elsewhere at Labour’s conference in Brighton, leading MPs from Labour’s left-wing said the party’s pledge of £28bn a year in green capital investment was not sufficient.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell told a conference fringe event on Monday: “It isn’t enough.”

He said the pledge didn’t match what he himself had proposed when he was in the party’s shadow cabinet.

Former shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told the same event she was “annoyed with the party” and criticised the Labour leadership for not doing enough on climate issues.

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