A supporter of Liz Truss has insisted British workers “are amongst the hardest working in the world”, after the Tory leadership contender claimed they need to produce “more graft”.
Former Cabinet minister Sajid Javid defended the Foreign Secretary’s past comments, saying “productivity in the UK versus other comparable countries is generally lower and that’s been a longstanding UK problem”.
But Labour branded Ms Truss’s remarks, made in a leaked audio recording obtained by The Guardian, a “total disgrace”.
In the recording, made while Ms Truss was a minister at the Treasury, she can be heard saying: “There’s a fundamental issue of British working culture.
“Essentially, if we’re going to be a richer country and a more prosperous country, that needs to change. But I don’t think people are that keen to change that.”
She added there was a “slight thing in Britain about wanting the easy answers”, before saying: “But actually what needs to happen is more… more graft. It’s not a popular message.”
She also said productivity was “very, very different in London from the rest of the country”, claiming this was “partly a mindset and attitude thing”.
Mr Javid told Sky News: “That comment, as I understand it, was made a number of years ago; I don’t know the exact context that was made in.
“What I also heard her say, just in that snippet that you played there, was that the productivity in the UK versus other comparable countries is generally lower and that’s been a longstanding UK problem, and that doesn’t happen because British workers don’t work hard; British workers are amongst the hardest working in the world. I ran the health service and I can tell you they could not work any harder in the health service.”
Underlining the need for regional investment, he added: “I think what she’s talking about is business and investment, because to increase productivity the Government of course has a huge role to play – there’s capital investment, things like infrastructure investment, for example, those areas that get more of it generally of course can do better in terms of productivity.
“It’s also about skills investment and making sure that we’re investing in skills across the country, not just in the capital or the South East but right across the country, and that is what’s going to make the difference, and Liz has a plan for that.”
Truss supporter and Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi highlighted the potential for higher productivity to fund more public service roles, telling broadcasters at Sydenham School in south-east London: “Well, what Liz Truss was talking about is can we improve productivity in the United Kingdom?
“Every percentage point of productivity improvement means the economy improves, we can pay for more nurses and doctors and teachers.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, described the remarks as a “total outrage”.
She told Good Morning Britain: “I think this is a total disgrace… It shows really, what Liz Truss really thinks of British people and particularly as you say, people outside London.
“She has already said that she wanted to cut public sector pay for workers outside London… She just thinks people don’t work as hard, it’s a total outrage.”
Earlier this month on the campaign trail, Ms Truss was forced to abandon an £8.8 billion plan which could have seen public sector pay slashed outside London.
The Tory leadership frontrunner scrapped the plan for regional pay boards a little over 12 hours after announcing it.
Ms Truss was a minister in the Treasury between 2017 and 2019.
The Liberal Democrats called on Ms Truss to apologise and have written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng challenging him to denounce Ms Truss’s comments about British workers.
Lib Democrat MP and the party’s business and industrial strategy spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: “The nasty party strikes again. Truss’s mask has slipped with these shameful comments.
“People across Britain are having to work harder than ever, thanks to the Conservatives’ failure to offset the cost-of-living catastrophe.
“How can Truss expect to win the support of the British public with views like this? She must apologise – and those supporting her should make clear whether or not they support her following these callous revelations.”