Thank you, Xavier, for that warm introduction.
And thank you for letting me have the honour of the opening the world’s greatest stock exchange a few moments ago.
I’m sure we all agree that if the FTSE closes up today, it will be because of the uniquely skilled way the market was opened this morning!
And if it goes down…
Well let’s just say I was never here!
Seriously, it’s great to be back in the City.
My 20-odd years with Chase Manhattan and Deutsche Bank took me all over the world.
But whenever I found myself in their Square Mile offices, it really felt like I’d come home.
And it’s a particular pleasure to be here today of all days.
Because this morning I get to see for myself some of the wonderful, inspiring British businesses in the LSE’s latest 1,000 companies list.
Too often politicians get dazzled by the big brands.
The household names.
The multinationals employing tens of thousands of people.
But even the biggest company started life as nothing more than one or two people with an idea.
And the small- and medium-sized companies of today, the ones listed in this report, are the big names of tomorrow.
That’s not just rhetoric.
The thousand companies in this list are experiencing average annual growth of 50%.
That’s an incredible figure, one that really shows how SMEs are powering the economic recovery.
The diversity of the companies listed here is inspiring too.
For one thing, they represent the whole of the UK.
This isn’t London navel-gazing.
There’s more than 100 in the North West of England, almost 200 across the Midlands.
We’ve got companies in Aberdeen, in Bristol…
And I wouldn’t be doing my job as a constituency MP if I didn’t highlight that there are 2 in Bromsgrove: Crown Domestic Appliances and Oakland International.
So well done to everyone who has made it onto this year’s list.
But particularly those 2!
The spread of companies isn’t just geographical.
They also cover a huge range of sectors, from IT to advertising to financial services.
And about a quarter of them are involved in some kind of manufacturing or engineering.
A lot of people think that industry is a thing of the past, that it’s all about the service sector now.
But these fast-growing, dynamic innovative companies show that Britain still has a real future in skilled manufacturing.
And that’s great to see.
For all that diversity, there are a few common threads linking these firms together.
One of those is their commitment to innovation and investment.
That’s what makes the difference in achieving such high growth returns year-on-year.
And that’s something the government, and my department in particular, are really serious about supporting.
Last summer, you may have seen, we launched a plan called ‘Fixing the foundations’.
It’s our cross-government plan for increasing productivity right across the economy.
Our vision for increasing long-term investment in people, capital and ideas, and making markets more dynamic.
That includes everything from increasing the quality and quantity of apprenticeships, to reforming the planning system, to changing the way the government supports growing companies who want to export.
But that’s not all.
With the right support, the inspired ideas of today can become the businesses of tomorrow.
So, at the Spending Review, the Chancellor announced an investment of almost £7 billion as part of the national science capital commitment.
He also protected today’s annual £4.7 billion resource funding in real terms.
Together, this underlines our commitment to keeping the UK a world leader in science and research.
We have also created Catapult centres that help business and researchers turn great ideas into commercial reality.
They cover 11 new and emerging technologies in areas where there are world-leading research capabilities in the UK.
Building on this, we’ll shortly be publishing a National Innovation Plan to ensure the UK remains an international beacon for bright ideas.
The plan will bring together ideas, levers and investment from across government, so we can create the right conditions for businesses to innovate and grow.
Of course, as Anthony Browne from the BBA says in today’s report, ambitious companies need finance in order to grow.
Banks provide a lot of that.
But bank lending isn’t the only way to go for innovative SMEs.
So I’d like to pay tribute to the UK’s Angel, Venture Capital and Public Market investor community for the role they are playing in helping innovative companies to start up and scale up.
Xavier and his team here at the LSE are also doing a lot to help strengthen the equity ladder, with the AIM, the High Growth Segment, and the ELITE Programme.
You’re giving innovative businesses access to both finance and expertise, and that should be applauded.
And I’m pleased to say the government is doing its bit too.
The British Business Bank is working alongside private lenders and investors to support a large number of innovative companies.
It’s part of our ambition – my ambition – to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.
That’s why all the specific support for innovative SMEs I’ve talked about today is underpinned by a passionate understanding of and support for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
We’ve slashed £10 billion of red tape for business, and are committed to cutting another £10 billion by 2020.
We’re extending the doubling of small business rate relief until 2017.
We’re cutting corporation tax to the lowest level of any major economy.
We’ve lifted hundreds of thousands of businesses out of Employer National Insurance Contributions.
We’ve set the highest ever permanent level for the annual investment allowance.
We’ve got R&D tax credits, the Patent Box and Entrepreneur’s Relief.
We’ve got tax schemes like the Enterprise Investment Scheme to encourage individuals to invest in small growth companies.
And the Enterprise Bill, currently before Parliament, will create a new Small Business Commissioner to give SMEs a stronger voice.
I was at Davos last month, where all the talk was of a future in which successful companies would be lean, agile, innovative and fast-growing.
Well, when I look in this report and look around this room that’s exactly what I see.
That means you are the future not just of British business, but of the global economy.
It’s a big weight to bear, but I’m sure you can take it.
The work you’re doing really is inspiring.
And I’m very pleased to say that you’ve got a Business Secretary and a government that’s going to support you every step of the way.