I really welcome this opportunity to come and speak to you today and to answer questions. It’s a really good opportunity to engage with leaders in the UK. What I want to say is that in the last Parliament we had a very clear goal. And it was a goal that you helped us with. Which was to have a private sector led recovery. Because of that goal and because of the work you all put in, we saw that happen. We saw the 2 million new jobs, we saw 750,000 businesses start up, we saw great success in terms of increasing our exports.
What I’m going to say today is that in this Parliament I’m equally clear about what I want us to achieve. I just lay out a few thoughts before I take some questions.
First of all, we’ve got to finish the job in terms of dealing with our situation of debt and deficit. We’ve paid down half of the deficit in the last Parliament, we will eradicate the deficit in this parliament and move to surplus. We’ve got to have a state that as a country that we can afford.
Second thing we’ve got to do is back enterprise as much in this Parliament, in fact more in this Parliament than in the last Parliament.
[Political content removed] And I hope you can see we’ve made a very purposeful strong and rapid start in putting in place those things to back enterprise. I want us to be the best place in Europe to start, to grow, to expand a business. I think that is fully within our reach and that is what we want to do.
At the same time as running this very strong pro-enterprise, pro-business agenda, I do want us to run a government as a genuine one nation government where were trying to extend opportunity to everyone in our country. Whether you are black, white, male or female. Whatever part of the country you come from, we actually think there is a real opportunity to build the opportunity society right here in Britain.
So that means making sure we continue to reform schools, making sure we invest more in childcare, making sure we go after all the causes that hold people back in our country. The fourth thing I’ll mention is that we want to restore the pride, prestige, power and influence of Britain in the world. A lot of these things flow from having a strong economy. You can make as many arguments as you like internationally, but if our economy isn’t strong, if people can’t see that you’re successful at home, you’ll only have a limited impact.
I would say this is not for some reasons of sort of national vanity. This is actually about our national interest. Britain is one of the most international country’s anywhere in the world. We have people and businesses all over the world. We rely on the trade and sea lanes being open all over the world. And so restoring our pride, prestige and influence across the world is absolutely key to our national interest.
Those are the 4 things I’d highlight just to start the discussions this morning. The second thing I’d say I do see this very much as a shared challenge. Government can’t do these things alone. It needs to be a proper partnership between government business and private sector. If you think about it and I’m sure Sajid touched on this. Behind these challenges lies one absolutely key challenge, something that we haven’t been getting right in our country. And that is increasing our productivity. If Britain was as productive as United States. As I’m sure Sajid has just told you, it’s his figure of the day, each family in Britain, would be £22,000 better off. Our economy would be about a third larger. This is a massive shared challenge for our country. Without meeting it we won’t meet the other objectives that I said. That means trading more, investing more, building more, rewiring our economy, investing in infrastructure, so it becomes more productive.
Third thing I would say just to stimulate the debate. Really the division in terms of what I think we need to do and where I hope you can help us. In terms of what the government will do; we will continue to take action on taxes. You saw in the Budget our plans to take corporation tax down to a historic low of 18%. We’ll take action on planning. It’s quite apparent to me we need to further streamline and simplify planning system. So that we can build and invest in the future. We’re going to try and make the investment climate as simple and positive as possible. Making sure an investment plan is set and fixed for the whole of this Parliament. We’re going to continue with a very strong programme investing in infrastructure.
We’ve now got the biggest rail investment programme since Victorian times, the biggest road investment programme since 1970s. Broadband is a massive challenge but we are actually doing well and I think we can go further.
Those are the things that I will focus on that we, the government, will try to deliver. On taxes, on planning on investment, on infrastructure. We also owe you a decision on London’s airport situation and that will be made before the end of the year. Final thing though is what we most want in terms of help from you. Sajid was talking about one of these things as I came into the room.
I identify really 3 things, that I, we hope that business can help us to deliver. The first is closing the skills gap and training. You did brilliantly in the last Parliament with 2.3 million apprentices trained. We’re going to train 3 million in this Parliament. I think we’re only going to that if we do move to this model of having the training levy model that Sajid talked about. I think it’s a massive priority for our country. If we want to close the productivity gap its clearly in the training space where a lot of work will be done.
Second thing is working with us on the areas where I want to make sure we have genuine opportunity.
Huge steps were made in the last Parliament around the employment of disabled people. I think 140,000 extra disabled people were employed in the last year. But breaking down the barriers for disabled people getting work should be a key priority for this Parliament. As should better progress in terms of black and minority ethnic employment, apprenticeships, and university places and opportunities.
The other area I mention which I read about in the Times newspaper today (thank you very much John) is closing the gender pay gap. This is much more difficult in many ways than some of the earlier steps that were made. In terms of the inequality between men and women’s pay, paying men and women different amount for the same job. That challenge isn’t entirely solved, but it is nearly solved. What we have now is a gender pay gap, based on the fact that in many instances men and women are doing different jobs and therefore different levels of pay. So this is a much bigger challenge. One that we absolutely should tackle, one that we can tackle. But it’s going to take real work from government and business to fix that.
Third area I’d mention is exports. Where again, this is a shared challenge. I think in the last parliament we had one or two areas of huge success. I would mention inward investment into the UK, which in many years was greater than all the inward investment in the rest of the European Union put together. And also the situation with China, where our exports rocketed up and inward investments from China has been huge. But the other markets if we are frank with ourselves. When we look at some of the other fast growing around the world, we’re not doing as well as a country as we should do. And we want to work with you very closely to try and close those gaps.
So that gives you, I hope, a flavour of the things I want to achieve in this 5 years. I think we’ve got a great opportunity of building on the base of 5 years of strong economic growth. An economy that has been growing faster than other major countries. Finish the job on the deficit, Britain as the most enterprising economy in Europe. Restoring Britain’s pride and prestige on the international stage. Which is not an act of national vanity, it’s an act of national interest. And building that genuine opportunity, where you can get to the top of whatever profession, whatever line of work you choose, as far as your talents allow. Because there are no barriers in your way. All the causes of poverty, the things that people trapped in the lack of opportunity are addressed either by government or by business.
That was all I wanted to say, very happy to take your questions, points, complaints or suggestions or anything else in the time that we’ve got left. Thank you very much.
Question (not audible)
I think a little bit. I think that what is happening in Greece I would say demonstrates the bigger argument that I’m making that this organisation, the European Union has to work both for Eurozone members and non-Eurozone members. I think that’s the key argument really I’m making. If you look at the areas I want to re-negotiate whether it is getting Britain out of ever closer union, whether its about fair rule between countries in the Eurozone. Whether it’s about competitiveness and structural reform. So Europe as a success story not a drag on growth. Better control on immigration and welfare. Greece has something to say on all those things. What is going to happen next, who knows? They’ve done the deal. It’s fairly painful. I’m going to have all sorts of things to discuss with my Parliament in the next 48 hours but I don’t think it’s going to be as difficult a time as the Greek Prime Minister. It doesn’t open up the treaty’s, as I don’t think they are going to fall out of the Eurozone. Thought that is still possible. I think the basic argument that this organisation needs to be more flexible is certainly one that’s got a lot stronger.
Do you accept that you have been out-foxed by Nicola Sturgeon and you’re now having to beat a humiliating retreat?
I wouldn’t quite put it like that for obvious reasons. The position of the SNP has up to now always been clear. Which is that they do not vote on matters that are purely of interest to England and Wales. Particularly if they’ve already settled that issue in Scotland. I find their position today entirely opportunistic and very hard to explain in any other way. You’ll have to ask them about that rather than me.
Do you think it is a real risk for Britain to have the living wage at the level it will be in 2020 and open borders?
First of all on national living wage. I mean I gather you’ve been doing a bit of polling this morning at the conference and it had strong support. I think this is a really important moment for the United Kingdom. I think it was really exciting being able to take the step in the Budget. I would say the way to think about it was a combination, a unique combination from aggressive cuts in business taxes, scaling back welfare, cutting taxes including for low pay people and introducing a national living wage. That was a combination of 4 things going together which this government governing on its own was able to do it which I think will be good for the economy, good for low paid people [political content removed]. I think it’s a really good move that will help to make work pay and help low paid people, I think it will help strengthen the economy and may even help with the productivity problem we’re facing as a country.
The knock on effect and the issue with immigration, the argument I would make is that the problem we’ve had if you accept that there’s a freedom of people who come and go and live and work in other countries. Many British people go and work in other European countries. We’ve had this added issue which is our tax credit system has been so generous that if you come here to work on top of your wages you can then get 8,9 possible £10,000 on top of your wages in benefits in your first year of coming here. Whilst I accept that you can’t have quotas or barriers to people coming to work, you should be able to have greater national determination over your welfare system so your welfare system is not an extra pull factor. One statistic for you is that of the people who come from the EU to Britain, 60% of them are job seekers. They’re not people who already have a job.
When the free movement was first designed it was very much thought of as enabling people to go and travel to another country to take a job that they had applied for.
What we’ve seen recently is much larger movements of job seekers. Now I think they are partly attracted by this very generous welfare situation. In fact, by increasing the national living wage, by shrinking tax credits, we’ve actually reduced the costs to the Exchequer, make sure low paid people are paid better. And at the same time, through the negotiation I’m having with Europe, I hope we’ll have greater determination of this national welfare situation, so we can open with the things I had in my manifesto about saying to people if you come from the EU, to work in Britain you shouldn’t get employment benefit. If you haven’t got a job in 6 months then you have to go home. Even when you have a job you shouldn’t get out of the welfare system until you’ve paid into it. All those things are very important. Plus not being able to send child benefit home. It’s ridiculous. I’ve had a lot of support from that from other European countries on those sorts of issues.
Question (not audible)
First of all look it’s still, it is outrageous that as we stand today there is still a gender pay gap. I’ve got 2 girls and a boy and I want my 2 girls to have every opportunity and be as well paid as my boy. It’s not fair. The fact that there’s still this gap standing is a rebuke to our country. The good news is that we’ve pretty much closed the gender pay under the age of 40 so that we have made good progress in recent years. The point I’m trying to make is that when people think of the pay gap, for many years it was literally a man and a woman doing the exactly same job and being paid a different amount of money. That was discrimination. That still is discrimination. That is illegal. That is not totally solved, but it is increasingly being solved. So the explanation for the remainder of the gender pay gap is about men and women doing different jobs. Sometimes, because of different opportunities, sometimes because of different choices made at university. Sometimes because of time taken out of the workplace. So what we need to do is now identify where the gender pay gap is. And then work out how best to deal with its causes. So this proposal for greater transparency I think is an important step along the way. If we have got the transparency and you can see in every company how big the gap is and you’re transparent about it. You can then start asking yourself well what we can do and what can we the government do to try and close the gap?
One of the things I think we can that will be absolutely essential will be childcare. We’re expanding from 15 hours of free childcare a week to 30 hours a week. I think that will encourage women back into the workforce. And therefore there’ll be one way of closing the gap. We need to get more girls studying maths and sciences at school and university. That’s beginning to happen. Maths is the most popular A level in the country. I’m sad to say I didn’t get it. I think we’ve got to look at all the causes. But I think transparency will help us get to the causes. I don’t think there’s anything to be frightened of. Obviously some companies, yours is a good example will say well we’ve got more male pilots and more women doing other jobs. To start with this is not going to look as good as I’d like. But on the other hand, transparency helps to get the conversation going about how do we get more women pilots. I think it will be a really healthy spur.