The manifesto set out plans to “finish the job of balancing the books, but do so fairly”, while cutting taxes for working people and protecting the environment “by almost trebling the amount of electricity from renewable energy”, according to Clegg’s introduction to the document.
Plans related to the food industry focused on: introducing a National Food Strategy to promote healthy, sustainable and affordable food, restricting the marketing of unhealthy food to children by limiting TV advertising before the 9pm watershed and introducing minimum pricing for alcohol.
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England featured too.
Immigration of high-skilled workers
The party also pledged to: eradicate the structural deficit by 2017/2018, double spending on innovation, permit the immigration of high-skilled workers to support the economy and encourage alternative finance providers.
The manifesto promised to prioritise small and medium-sized enterprises for business tax cuts and invest in transport and intrastructure, while targeting 60% of electricity to be supplied from renewable sources by 2030.
Other pledges included: lifting the personal tax-free allowance to £12,500, earmarking an extra £2.5bn for the educational budget in England and spending £8bn more on the National Health Service.
There was also provision for workers on zero-hours contracts to request fixed contracts and to double the number of businesses hiring apprentices, while increasing the number of apprenticeships.
No single outright winner
Clegg predicted the May 7 election would deliver no single outright winner. That would mean a role for the Liberal Democrats in a coalition government to ensure the majority party neither cut spending too harshly nor borrowed too much money. “'The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one,” he said.
While accepting the next prime minister would either be David Cameron or Ed Miliband, “what really matters is who they will have by their side”, he said.
On Europe, the manifesto underlined the UK’s future within the EU but reserved the option of an in-out membership referendum in the event of major treaty changes.
‘An absolute must’
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) welcomed the party’s commitment to deficit reduction, which was “an absolute must” for any new government, said its director-general, John Cridland.
The CBI also praised the manifesto commitments to delivering world-class education and maintaining membership of a reformed EU.
But the organisation objected to proposed changes to the levying of corporation tax and taxation of capital gains and banks. See the box at the end of this article for more details of the CBI’s response.
Manufacturers’ organisation EEF said manifesto plans for a long-term manufacturing renaissance – based around innovation and investment – would be welcomed by firms.
Its chief executive Terry Scuoler said: “Business will welcome the clear emphasis on economic growth and a skilled workforce to deliver it. The fact this is at the heart of the manifesto shows a clear grasp of what the UK economy needs to propel it forwards.”
But he warned the party’s “stubborn opposition to essential airport expansion will be extremely damaging”. See more comments below.
The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association said the manifesto plans could help the renewables industry to grow substantially.
“It’s an absolute must for any new Government to focus on deficit reduction. The Liberal Democrat manifesto rightly highlights the importance of delivering a world-class education for our children and maintaining the UK’s membership of a reformed EU. But we do have differences of opinion over proposed restrictions on interest deductibility from corporation tax and taxation of capital gains and banks, along with the need for expansion of aviation capacity in the South-East.
On the deficit: “Growth and opportunity can only be built on sound economic foundations, so with progress having been made this Parliament on deficit reduction, the Liberal Democrats should get credit for committing to finish the job. Sustainable public finances will offer the opportunity to invest more into those critical areas that will support the long-term health of the economy. All parties must keep in mind the heavy lifting on deficit reduction should come from continued reform and efficiency savings, not additional taxation.”
On education: “A decent education is fundamental to the success of our economy and to giving all young people the start they deserve, but new funding must go hand-in-hand with reform. The next government should rip up the rule book when it comes to GCSEs, and instead develop individual learning plans from 14 through to 18 years old.”
On taxation: “Further restrictions on interest deductibility when it is already subject to many anti-avoidance measures risks damaging the competitiveness of the UK to attract capital for investment projects. It’s important that banks pay their fair share of tax, but the idea for a supplementary corporation tax charge on top of the bank levy is an unwelcome distraction from keeping them focused on lending to support businesses and individuals. Changes to Capital Gains Tax and Entrepreneurs’ Relief could send a bad signal to ambitious growing businesses and investors willing to take risks to secure growth.”
On Europe: “We welcome the Liberal Democrats’ emphasis on Britain’s continued membership of a reformed EU, and maintaining access to the Single Market to support jobs and growth here in the UK. But the EU does need to change and business wants to see an ambitious, achievable reform agenda from whoever forms the next government.”
On aviation capacity: “Growing airport capacity in the South East is critical to the UK’s economic future and we simply cannot afford to ignore the strong business case, so it’s vital that any new government endorses the Davies Commission’s final recommendations.”
On business support: “Increased funding for innovation, a strong backing for industrial strategy and support for growing businesses will all help to stimulate growth and investment in the economy.”
On businesses: “There are some ambitious and innovative proposals which manufacturers would want to see reflected in any coalition agreement. Bold increases in the innovation budget are absolutely necessary if the UK is to join the ranks of Europe’s innovation leaders while a strong commitment to driving ahead with a TTIP [Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] deal and a dedicated HMRC [Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs] centre for mid-sized businesses will all strike a chord with industry.”
On infrastructure and airport expansion: “Proposals to develop a rolling 10 year capital investment plan are encouraging and a starting point for a more strategic approach to inform future investment decisions. Industry will be looking for more detail on how a long-term approach based on identifying all infrastructure challenges would be developed to ensure more reliable and resilient infrastructure that supports growth and productivity over the long-term.”
On education and skills: “Extending the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers and proposals for more sector-led National Colleges demonstrate a commitment to supporting industry in its quest for higher-level vocational skills. The proposed review of higher education finance must include a longer-term approach to capital funding to ensure that universities have the capacity and capital to deliver high-quality STEM courses which are increasingly in demand by employers and learners alike.”
On Tribunal fees: “Business will be concerned at any proposed reforms to the employment tribunal system which were long overdue. Manufacturers want proportionate fees for claimants as these have a role in achieving a fair and balanced Employment Tribunal system. Any proposed review must be evidence-based and strike a balance between preventing vexacious claims and allowing access to justice.”
On energy and climate change: “Proposals are mixed in this area. Commitments on industrial energy efficiency and support for greener technologies are to all to be welcomed. However, further government intervention in the energy market, in form of decarbonisation targets and bans on unabated fossil fuel plants, and pledges to continue to increase environmental taxes could prove costly and inefficient ways of achieving our aims.”
On Resources: “We welcome proposals to explore the impact of climate change on the availability of future resources, incentives for resource efficiency and the commitment to establish a senior Cabinet Committee to coordinate action across government, with a specific unit working on resource management. It will be important that it also addresses the critical issue of resource security.
“That said, we are concerned that plans around product design and recycling are out of kilter with current discussions in Europe on how to foster a circular economy. Regulation alone will not drive a circular economy. It will be also be important to introduce pull measures and incentives. The economic case must add up to create a stable circular framework and foster competitiveness and productivity gains in tandem.”