A second city that's second to none

Sajid Javid talks to Birmingham's Asian Business Chamber of Commerce about their city's future and the contribution of the Asian community.

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP

Good evening everyone, it’s great to be here.

I’m looking forward to joining you all for the main course in a moment.

I was in India a little while back, selling the benefits of investing in the Midlands.

And I told everyone there that if you come to Britain and want a good curry, there’s only one place better than Birmingham.

My mum’s kitchen in Bristol.

I think even she’d struggle to cook for 600 people, so I suppose that I’ll have to make do tonight!

It’s been a few months now since I became Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

I was out a few weeks ago and a man, a white guy, came up to me and said: “Congratulations on the new job!”

“I really need to have a meeting with you.”

“I’ve got lots of big ideas to talk about, I want to discuss with you…”

So I was nice and polite and told him how to get in touch and thanked him for his support.

And as he heads off he turns round and says: “Great to meet you, Sadiq! Thanks for kicking those Tories out of London!”

True story.

I’ve no idea who he was.

White people, they all look the same, don’t they?

Oh well.

As Sadiq Khan himself has said, you wait ages for the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver to turn up in British politics.

Then two come along at once.

Now, my story, and Sadiq’s, are in many ways one and the same. It’s one some of you may already be familiar with.

In fact it’s one many of you will share.

My parents came to Britain from the Indian sub-continent in the 1960s.

And they came not simply to build a better future for themselves, but to offer their children a future that they themselves could only dream of.

Fast forward to 2016 and it’s fair to say my brothers and I have all done alright.

One of them is here tonight, actually.

So before I go any further, I think I can invoke my rights as an older sibling and give an embarrassing shout out to my little brother, Bas.

He’s here tonight having just been promoted to Chief Superintendent with West Midlands Police.

Well done, bhai!

You see, Bas has this amazing career – Royal Navy, police, a masters from Cambridge.

But, Bas, I have to tell you, Mum still thinks I’m the successful one.

It’s not because I’m in the Cabinet or a Privy Councillor or anything like that.

It’s because, when I was Secretary of State for Culture, I got my photo taken with Deirdre from Coronation Street.

That’s something she can REALLY boast about to her friends!

This room is full of people who have made their parents proud for significantly greater achievements.

I’m not just talking about the nominees and award winners, but everyone here.

The best of Birmingham’s Asian business community.

This is a great city going through a period of great growth and transformation.

And it’s business leaders like you who are shaping its future, building its future.

For many years – for too many years – Birmingham and the West Midlands were the punch line of too many bad jokes.

It was a place people laughed at, sometimes they sneered at.

Not anymore.

Today, Birmingham is unrecognisable from the city I first visited back in the 1980s.

Our second city is second to none.

The rebuilt Bullring, the glittering library and the new-look New Street are the jewels in the crown.

But they’re by no means the end of the story.

There’s already the Thinktank, the theatres, and one of the world’s busiest concert venues.

The tram extension is creeping across the city.

HS2 will connect Birmingham to the rest of the country.

And the International Airport is connecting Birmingham to ever-more far-flung places across the world.

It sounds like the airport’s here tonight!

On the way in this evening I saw a skyline of cranes, a sure sign of a city on the up.

The enterprise zone is making Birmingham richer.

Eastside Park is making Birmingham greener.

The Big City Plan is making Birmingham smarter, more innovative, and more successful.

The HS2 college will train the cutting-edge rail engineers of the future.

But the City of a Thousand Trades is no longer just a manufacturing centre.

In 2016 it’s home to RBS, to Deutsche Bank, and PwC.

200 life sciences firms employing 10 times as many people.

1,600 companies in the low carbon sector, with sales of almost £4 billion.

You know, in the last Parliament, Birmingham created more new jobs than France.

Not just a city in France, but the whole of France.

In 2014 to 2015, more foreign businesses invested in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area than any other LEP region.

Now, I could go on and list the successes and achievements all night.

Everywhere I look in Birmingham I see progress that demands celebration, that cries out for it.

Well, maybe not at Villa Park… But everywhere else!

I thought you’d like that one… Some of you, anyway!

In just a few months from now this great city will take its next leap forward with the election of the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Directly electing a mayor will put unprecedented power in the hands of West Midlands voters.

It will bring more funding, more transparency and more accountability to the region.

The Mayor will be a voice for the West Midlands in Westminster and on the world stage.

A single figure with powers over planning, skills and transport, things that are all so important to success in business.

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So these are exciting times for Birmingham, and indeed the whole West Midlands.

As a government minister, I’d really like to be able to claim credit for it.

I’d like to say it’s all down to us.

And perhaps some of it is!

Over the past six-and-a-half years we’ve worked hard to get the economy back on track.

We’ve lowered taxes, we’ve cut red tape.

We’ve given young people the skills they need to get on, we’re fixing the welfare system so that it pays to work.

Thanks to our planning reforms, last year saw the biggest increase in the number of new homes built in almost a decade.

The economy is safe in our hands, and businesses know that they won’t be punished for making a profit.

But the real secret of Birmingham’s transformation isn’t someone behind a desk in London saying “I know, let’s send some more money up the M40”.

It’s all happening because of people like you.

Birmingham people making Birmingham a success.

The ordinary businessmen and women who are working hard, creating jobs and growing the local economy.

The dedicated members of the Local Enterprise Partnership who are combining their local knowledge and their passion for their city to make Birmingham all it can be.

The local councillors, the business leaders, the academics and more who are driving the Midlands Engine, joining east and west together to make the Midlands greater than the sum of its parts.

And of course the new combined authority.

Yes, it was signed off in Westminster.

But the idea, the vision and the determination to make it happen came from right here in the West Midlands.

It came from you.

So you’ve got a lot to celebrate tonight.

The business successes of the nominees and winners, certainly.

But also the wider contribution of Birmingham’s Asian community.

And what a contribution it has made to this city, the engine of British economic growth.

Now, I’ve admitted that the phenomenal success of your businesses isn’t all down to the government.

But you guys in the room tonight aren’t the only ones who should take credit either.

There’s a whole bunch of other people to whom we all owe literally everything.

Because whether your roots are in India, or they’re in Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or even Uganda, there’s one thing that unites almost all successful British Asians: our biggest heroes are our parents.

Charan Sohal, who founded Orbit International here in Birmingham, once said that “the Asian philosophy is to work for the next generation.”

And that’s exactly what so many of our parents and grandparents did.

They travelled thousands of miles to settle in what to them was a strange, unfamiliar, cold and frankly sometimes hostile place.

And then they worked and they worked and they worked to provide us with the opportunities they never had.

Just look at my dad.

When he arrived in Britain in 1961 he had just one pound to his name.

One pound.

But he also had a powerful motivation, an ambition not for himself but for the next generation of Javids.

So he found a job up in Rochdale, first in a cotton mill and then as a bus driver.

He never stopped working.

He put in so many shifts that his colleagues nicknamed him “Mr Night And Day”.

And he and my mum lived a simple life and they saved every penny they could so that their five children could experience a life they had only dreamed of.

He died in 2012.

But, two years later, when I was the first Asian MP to become a Secretary of State, I knew my road to the Cabinet table was built on foundations that my father laid.

If you ask Bas he’ll tell you exactly the same about his amazing career.

And if you ask any of the award winners here tonight, I’m fairly sure they’ll also have a similar story to tell.

So before I go, I want to say thank you to the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce for inviting me this evening.

I want to say thank you to all the business leaders that are here tonight for doing so much to create jobs and drive growth and build the future of Birmingham.

But above all, I want to say thank you to our parents and grandparents.

Without their drive, their determination, none of us would be here tonight.

They laid a path for us to follow, they allowed us to succeed.

They sacrificed so much to give us the opportunities we all enjoy today.

It’s a debt we can never repay.

But we can show our gratitude by following their example.

By working hard.

And by continuing to make this city and this country a place that our children and grandchildren will be proud to call home.

Congratulations to all the winners, and have a great evening.

Thank you very much.

Published 21 November 2016