Ed Balls's Labour conference speech - live blog

Minute-by-minute coverage of the shadow chancellor's speech to the Labour conference.

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12:39 In contrast to Vince Cable, who spoke of "grey skies" in his conference speech, Balls ends on an optimistic note. Labour must show that there is "reason to hope" and a "better way", he concludes.

12:38 Britain might be a "safe haven" for Cameron, Osborne, Boris Johnson and their friends, says Balls. But Tory Britain is not a "safe haven" for the 16,000 companies that have gone bust in the last year.

12:36 He promises to examine proposals for a National Investment Bank for small businesses.

12:34 He adds that Labour will commit to use any windfall from the sale of the state-owned bank shares for deficit reduction, not tax cuts. Balls promises"fiscal responsibility in the national interest".

12:33 Here's the much-previewed passage on Balls's new "fiscal rules".

Before the election he promises that he will spell out "tough fiscal rules" that a future Labour government would have to follow. They would be independently monitored by the OBR.

12:29 Balls is announcing his five-point plan for growth:

1. Repeat the bank bonus tax and use the money to build 20,000 affordable homes.

2. Bring forward long-term investment in schools, transport, and roads.

3. An immediate one year reduction in VAT on home improvements to 5 per cent.

4. Reverse January's VAT rise for a temporary period to stimulate growth.

5. A one-year National Insurance holiday for every small firm that takes on extra workers.

"Call it Plan A, call it Plan B, call it Plan C, I don't care what they call it. Britain needs a plan that works," he cries.

12:25 But he refuses to accept that Labour was "profligate" during its time in office. We went into the crisis with a lower debt-to-GDP ratio than in 1997, he reminds the hall.

12:24 Sounding a note of contrition, Balls admits that Labour made "mistakes", namely the 75p pension rise, the abolition of the 10p tax rate, loose controls on eastern european migration, and light regulation of the banks.

12:23 Balls cites the IMF's warning that Osborne may need to slow the pace of his cuts if growth continues to disappoint. He repeats one of Labour's favourite attack lines: "Osborne's plan is hurting but it's not working".

12:21 He attacks Osborne's deficit reduction programme as self-defeating "if you choke off the recovery then borrowing doesn't go down, it goes up," he warns. The government cannot afford to tolerate rising unemployment.

12:19 Balls attacks Osborne and Cameron for praising austerity across the world and "urging even deeper cuts". They are ignoring the lessons of history, he says. It is not just a failure of leadership but an "abdication of responsibility too", he warns.

12:17 This is not a "crisis of public debt" but a "global growth crisis", argues Balls. We must learn the lesson of the 1930s, he says. Piling austerity on austerity does not work.

12:16 These are "the darkest, most dangerous" economic times in my lifetime, says Balls. Britain is facing the threat of something most of us have only read about in the history books: a decade of stagnation.

12:14 He pays tribute to "our leader and my friend, Ed Miliband", praising Miliband's response to the phone hacking scandal and his calm, resolute leadership.

12:13 Balls takes to the stage. He begins by saying how pleased he is to deliver his first conference speech as shadow chancellor.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.