BORIS Johnson has been accused of living in a “parallel universe” after his ‘beavers’ conference speech, while families face rising costs of living.
Businesses have hit out after the Prime Minister said he wanted to address the problems of low wages and cheap labour by cracking down on immigration.
Supermarket boss Richard Walker said the Conservatives appeared to be blaming businesses and the narrative was “not helpful”, while official figures show that firms are passing on rising costs to consumers.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said its latest business survey showed nearly a third (29 per cent) of companies have seen a higher-than-normal increase in the cost of materials, goods and services – with construction, services and manufacturing firms the worst hit.
Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Walker, a supporter of Brexit, said “tough rhetoric is just quite simply not helpful” to struggling businesses.
He said: “I don’t think it’s particularly helpful at the moment. Business is dealing with so much and so many different crises which has all compounded at once.
“Pointing the finger and choosing us as the bogeymen for issues such as HGV driver shortages – which is multifaceted and systemic – is simply not helpful.”
Gary Grant, chief executive of the toy shop chain Entertainer said firms were facing rising costs, faster than any time in the past four decades, and added that Mr Johnson’s speech showed he had “no idea what’s going on on the ground,”
He said: “‘Invest in your people, train your people.’
“Yeah, we’re doing all of that. But we want more people.”
On the final day of the Conservative conference, Mr Johnson said that rising costs had made it tough” for people, adding: “What I think should happen is that organically business and industry should be paying people a little bit more in order to help them.”
He later told the BBC: “What you can’t do, and must not do is, simply go back to the old, tired, failed model of the UK economy that has led to a relative underproductivity by comparison with all our major competitors for decades, and has held wages down, held growth down and held productivity down.”
The SNP and Labour have both hit out at the remarks, with Labour’s Ed Miliband saying the current problems of fuel crises and energy costs rising show the Prime Minister is living in a “parallel universe”.
He said: “The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday was that of someone living in a parallel universe, in denial about the crisis facing Britain’s families and businesses.”
“This is a gas price crisis made in Downing Street by a decade of government failure to make our energy system resilient.
“It is consumers and firms that are paying the price for the government’s failure.
“The UK is particularly vulnerable to increases in gas prices because the government allowed our gas storage facilities to close, blocked onshore wind, cut solar subsidies, stalled our nuclear programme and because of their total failure to deliver a long-term plan for energy efficiency.”
The SNP’s Kirsten Oswald, the party’s deputy Westminster leader, added that urgent action was needed to prevent people sliding into poverty, heavily blaming Brexit for the current problems.
She said: “This Tory government’s actions and hard Brexit is hammering businesses and families across the country.
“On Boris Johnson’s watch, fuel and energy prices are soaring, and businesses are losing millions due to staffing shortages and trade barriers.
“Brexit has already cost Scotland billions of pounds – and is projected to leave every person the equivalent of £1,600 worse off a year by 2030 compared to EU membership.”
She said the cut to universal credit, upcoming National Insurance rise and the predicted increase in energy bills “could mean families losing hundreds or thousands of pounds over the coming months.”
Ms Oswald called for the UK Government to “announce a multi-billion pound Brexit recovery fund to mitigate the damage caused by Boris Johnson’s deal, and an emergency package to boost household incomes – reversing Tory Universal Credit cuts, introducing an energy payment for low income families, and a real Living Wage would be a start. “