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Miliband vow to firms and families
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and wife Justine walk to the Brighton centre where he will deliver his keynote speech
Ed Miliband has promised to help businesses and families cope with the rising cost of living, as he declared: "Britain can do better."
The Labour leader promised an £800 million tax break for small businesses and revealed he is planning a new generation of new towns and garden cities in England to ease the housing shortage.
But he came under fire from businesses for announcing that he will pay for reductions in small business rates by cancelling a planned 1% reduction in corporation tax scheduled for 2015.
In his keynote speech to Labour's annual conference in Brighton, Mr Miliband said the link between national economic growth and individual household prosperity has been "broken" by the coalition Government, with the proceeds of recovery largely going to a "privileged few".
Borrowing a slogan from Ronald Reagan's successful 1980 bid for the US presidency, Mr Miliband said that at the 2015 general election, voters should ask themselves: "Am I better off now than I was five years ago?"
He said he wanted to claim the mantle of "the party of small business" for Labour and pledged that if he wins power, his first act will be to reverse a hike in small business rates due in April 2015 and to freeze the levy the following year.
The move - which Labour calculates will be worth an average £450 over two years to 1.5 million businesses, and up to £2,000 for some firms - will be paid for by scrapping the coalition's planned cut in corporation tax from 21% to 20%.
Speaking without notes, Mr Miliband accused the Conservatives of pursuing a "race to the bottom", in which prosperity for a few is bought at the cost of worsening wages, conditions and workplace rights for the majority of workers. Labour would instead offer "a race to the top", with support for small firms to become the wealth and job creators of the future.
Labour's decision to hold business rates at 2014 levels for two years would affect properties and commercial premises with an annual rental value of £50,000 or less. This would mean some franchise-holders operating branches of major multinationals benefiting from the change. The move would save small firms a total of £250 million in 2015/16 and £540 million in 2016/17, according to figures from the House of Commons Library.
Institute of Directors director general Simon Walker warned that it was "a dangerous move for Labour to risk our business-friendly environment" by raising corporation tax, while John Longworth of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "Labour must realise that you can't rob Peter to pay Paul. To create an environment where companies can thrive, both business rates and corporation tax rates have to be contained, and the broken business rates system fundamentally reformed."