Keir Starmer's business charm offensive has been successful but hard work on Brexit and workers' rights policy lies ahead

Regaining the confidence of British business has been a priority in Sir Keir Starmer's mission to rehabilitate Labour.

Businesses of course are a disparate bunch, from sole traders and medium-sized enterprises that make up the majority of Britain's employers, to multinationals that have a choice of markets in which to invest.

They all matter though, because Sir Keir and chancellor-in-waiting Rachel Reeves are counting on the private sector to deliver the economic growth on which their plan to restore public services relies.

Changing sentiment has been a long road.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell's 2019 election agenda sent a chill down the spines of a community that style themselves as "wealth creators", but have strong views on how much of that wealth they should hang on to.

A successful charm offensive

Judging by the mood among delegates a week before polling day at the British Chambers of Commerce conference, a charm offensive fought over a thousand working breakfasts has been largely successful.

In public and private, delegates and speakers are not scared of what a Labour government might mean. Many indeed are enthusiastic about the opportunity to turn the page on years of economic uncertainty, upheaval and occasionally hostility from Conservative administrations.

Amanda Blanc, chief executive of the insurance giant Aviva, bemoaned "an air of weariness and cynicism" hanging over the economy, but said stable policy after the election could unlock investment.

"They seem thoughtful and sober-minded, a safe pair of hands, I think they come across as reasonable and evidence-based," said Paul van Zyl, founder of The Conduit, a members club for 'changemakers' based in west London.

More than good vibes needed

Kick-starting the economy will take more than good vibes, however.

Many businesses have questions that Labour cannot yet answer and will come under pressure to resolve when governing replaces opposition.

Stability is Labour's central pitch, delivered by the party's Jonathan Reynolds, who may be just eight days from throwing off his "shadow" and becoming business secretary for real.

He had familiar messages about how growth would be delivered, from planning reform and skills to investment in the energy transition.

A plan that's not working - Brexit

More interesting was what he had to say about Brexit, a dog that has not barked in this campaign largely because the main parties have kept it muzzled.

The BCC wants the new government to "stop walking on eggshells" and call out the shortcomings of the existing deal with the EU.

"The current plan isn't working for our members," says Shevaun Havilland, its chief executive.

The big business groups all lobbied to remain in 2016, but companies of all sizes have felt the impact of barriers imposed on commerce with the UK's largest single trading partner.

Speaking the morning after Sir Keir described the current EU deal as "botched" in his BBC debate with Rishi Sunak, Mr Reynolds said Labour would seek closer alignment on food safety standards and cut red tape for touring musicians.

But he ruled out anything more ambitious, including allowing "youth mobility", effectively freedom of movement in the UK-EU for younger people.

"Labour will not be seeking to rejoin the single market or the customs union, or to reopen the wounds of the past, because that would not give us the stability which we know is essential," he said.

That will disappoint but not surprise many who believe the EU offers the most direct route to increasing growth.

Workers rights

There is uncertainty too about what Labour's plans to improve workers' rights will mean in practice.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner is leading "a new deal for working people", including a guarantee of full employment rights, including sick pay and parental leave, from day one of starting a job rather than after the current two years.

Business bristled at that and the plans have been diluted to a starting point for consultation, but Mr Reynolds was challenged over the potential for increased costs.

"It has the potential to land UK employers with significant costs and risk in a world where we face competition from companies that have the choice to employ people here or internationally," said Sean Ramsden, chief executive of food wholesale Ramsden International.

Mr Reynolds insisted that the changes, central to relations with the trade unions, would hold back recruitment.

They are a reminder though that, if the polls are right, the hard work is about to begin.