British companies must reform if they want to save the public's faith in capitalism, Theresa May told an audience of top bosses on Monday (21 November).

The prime minister announced that her government would seek to shake-up corporate governance in the UK by, among other things, having staff "voices" on business boards.

But the Conservative premier U-turned on a previous pledge to mandate employees onto company boards.

"What I've clarified today is that we want worker representation on boards," May told the Confederation of Business Industry's (CBI) annual conference in London.

"There are a number of ways in which that can be achieved."

Her administration will consult with businesses this autumn about the proposal.

"We will be working with you and businesses up and down the country to make sure that what we arrive at is the best model for everybody," May said.

The prime minister also stressed that she believed in free markets, capitalism and business. But she urged companies to work with the government to "build a stronger, fairer Britain together".

"If we support free markets, value capitalism and back business – and we do – then we must do everything we can to keep faith with them," she said.

May promises 'clarity' over Brexit plans

Elsewhere, May confirmed the government would offer £2bn per year by 2020 in research and development funding, while promising to give the UK the lowest corporation tax among the G20 economies.

The move could see the Treasury drop corporation tax, which is currently set at 20% and set to fall to 17% by 2020, to 15% in a bid to compete with the US after President-elect Donald Trump promised to slash his country's levy from 35% to 15%.

The prime minister also reconfirmed her stance not to give a "running commentary" on her government's Brexit negotiations with the EU.

But May did promise the CBI delegates "clarity" over the talks, such as her decision to set a deadline of March 2017 to trigger Article 50, the mechanism to break from Brussels.

The comments came after Paul Drechsler, the CBI's president, called for Brexit clarity from May. "We're not asking for a running commentary – but we are looking for clarity and –above all – a plan," he said.

May also admitted that leaving the EU creates uncertainty for business, but she argued that there opportunities to be had from a Brexit.

"Opportunities to get out into the world and do new business with old allies. To be flexible. To set our own rules and forge new and dynamic trading agreements that work for the whole of the UK. Opportunities to become the true global champion of free trade," she said.

The prime minister added: "I believe that if we approach the difficult negotiations to come in the right way with the right spirit, we can strike a deal that's best for Britain and the rest of Europe too."

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Labour's Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, accused the Conservatives of being the party of the "out-of-touch elite" in reaction to May's speech.

"Theresa May's announcement that big business will be receiving yet another tax break whilst two million working people face losing £2,100 a year in Universal Credit cuts just shows that the Tories are still the party of the out-of-touch elite," she said.