It’s a pleasure to be here, back in Liverpool. I was born and grew up a few miles from here in Chester. My parents worked at the university when computers were kept in labs, then for a mail order firm called McIntyre’s based in Mulberry House on the site of the old Customs house, now Liverpool 1.
One of the most exciting things about coming to work with my parents was going through the Mersey Tunnel. For a real treat, sometimes we took the ferry.
Mulberry House is long gone, but today I’m excited to be back in Liverpool, and excited about the small businesses which call this city their home.
Because it’s those businesses and businesses like them which are leading not just a recovery, but the rebirth of a northern powerhouse.
Now some will dismiss this idea: the same people who are resigned to the idea that there can be one powerhouse and one alone. That London’s huge appetite for human and financial capital means the rest of Britain must forever content itself with the table scraps of globalization. I want to debunk that myth today.
To them I reply, look at the story of Liverpool.
After all, this is a city which has reinvented, reasserted itself, and indeed remade the world in its own image, time and again.
When Britain abolished slavery, a trade which represented a fifth of our economy, Liverpool didn’t wither and fail. Indeed it was abolitionists from the north west - manufacturers and merchants, with a Bible in 1 hand and a copy of Adam Smith in the other - who led the charge for reform.
And the trafficking of human freedom was duly replaced with free trade in the raw materials of industrial revolution.
When Hitler blitzed Liverpool to the ground my family manned the guns in Chester, and you rebuilt your city from the rubble, and in time it became first city of the first truly global youth culture.
And when containerization made traditional docking obsolete you turned wharves and warehouses into art galleries and theatres - a model of urban renewal which other cities would strive to emulate.
Trading patterns change; technology changes; times change. Of course these will impact on how a region will develop. We all have to live with the legacy of industrial history.
But there was nothing inevitable about London’s relative rise. Like London you have world class universities, ready access to global markets and a thriving entrepreneurial community.
With the right support this region can be unleashed upon the world once again.
Last week the Chancellor laid out a vision of:
Stronger and more decisive local democracy; unflinching support for science and innovation; and a modern transport infrastructure to link the great northern powerhouse.
These are vital. Yet they would be insufficient if we don’t also back to the hilt our single most important economic asset: Britain’s small businesses.
Small businesses like yours across the UK generate a third of private sector turnover. You employ more than 11 million people, and the jobs you’ve created in recent years have come to define the recovery.
Many of you want to scale up, some want to export for the first time. Perhaps most important of all, there are thousands of young people at school, college and university here in this city, who in the time between work-shifts and essay crises dream of starting their own business.
And there are thousands more who look forward to day when they can walk into the manager’s office and hand in their notice because they’re leaving the company to found their own start-up.
To make those aspirations a reality small businesses need the best possible support they can get from government.
Thanks to your hard work and sacrifice things are already moving in the right direction.
Last week’s FSB report found business confidence at record highs.
Our long-term economic plan - keeping down tax and interest rates by tacking the deficit - has helped businesses create more than 2 million jobs since 2010. As Skills Minister, I’m especially pleased that we’ve seen 1.8 million new apprenticeships, and that we’re on track for 2 million apprenticeship starts by the next election.
Unemployment is falling sharply. With the claimant count down 23% in Liverpool in the last year alone. While some knock the north, saying only London can create jobs, I celebrate the fact that jobs growth is fastest in the north west and north east. Not London.
But there’s much more to do.
We need to support businesses like the nearby R S Clare, making lubricants on the same site since 1748, and winning a Queen’s Award for their work. There’s Chargepoint Technology who are market leaders in the supply of containment valves and equipment for a range of industries.
Time-honed craft, the latest innovation – we need to back both.
So growth is back and jobs are being created right across the country.
None of this is inevitable. The right policy is crucial. The doubling of apprenticeships – didn’t happen accident. The reduction in regulation – takes focused effort.
The £2,000 employment allowance, and corporation tax cuts were only possible because we have got a grip on spending.
And because success needs support, that’s why we have introduced the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill - the first time ever that small business has been the specific focus of government legislation.
The bill is designed to pull down barriers to enterprise and give the small business more freedom to become the driving force of our economy that we all know they can be. Right across Britain.
The bill brings in measures that will open up opportunities for new public sector contracts, new markets, better access to finance, and much-needed job creation. This is all part of our long term economic plan to make sure that small businesses have the right environment to start-up, scale up and thrive.
This legislation has a very personal resonance for me.
After my parents left McIntyres they set up their own software business, back in Chester, I saw first-hand the stress and worry of dealing with late payment, unnecessary government bureaucracy, and the continual search for new finance.
In the early 1990s, our company was days from going under because a cheque from a key client was late. The cheque came and the company was saved, but it left an indelible impression on me.
Too often small businesses are at the mercy of forces beyond their control. If we’re going to unleash their potential and restore the north to its rightful place as the engine-room of British economy, they need to have confidence: confidence in the future, confidence in their supply chain, confidence that government is on their side.
Which is why the measures in this bill are so important.
We’re cutting red tape, by ensuring that regulations with an impact on business are reviewed regularly and remain effective, by locking in future governments to publish regulatory targets.
We’re ensuring that large companies publish their payment practices, so small firms are better placed to negotiate fair terms, and we’re harnessing new technologies to speed up payment, such as by enabling cheque imaging.
We’re opening up access to small business credit data, removing one of the main barriers to entering the business lending market.
Along with the new challenger banks supported by the British Business Bank, this will continue the vital work of diversifying our financial system, ensuring that never again do so many small businesses depend so much on the lending of so few.
And because I want the taxpayer to personally benefit from your innovation and drive, the bill will also streamline public procurement and remove barriers to help small businesses gain fair access to this huge £230 billion market. The measures will also make it easier for them to raise concerns about public procurement practices, to ensure they are small business-friendly.
I am determined that as a government we enable small businesses to be great companies by getting out of the way, removing complexity and creating greater certainty.
That means practising what we preach, and not just in the way we regulate, but also in the way we deliver support.
At the FSB Conference in March, I said that the government is making sure our business support schemes are easier to find and more relevant.
After rigorously reviewing government’s business services, we concluded that our offer needed to be clearer and simpler to understand.
So I can announce that all major government support schemes will be rolled into 3 clear offers:
For help with export, we have UKTI.
Financial support will be merged under the British Business Bank.
Advisory support will be delivered under the GREAT Business branding.
As of today, we are enhancing the GREATbusiness.gov.uk website where business advice and guidance are being brought together in 1 place.
There will be a new on-line tool that will direct businesses to the most relevant support, based on what they say they need, not what we think they need.
Between now and December we will consolidate advisory functions, and close those that don’t give value for money, so there is one go-to place for national business advice, all under the GREAT branding.
Businesses are already benefitting from the government support available, but we want it to work better for all businesses. Because we will strain every sinew to support businesses to create prosperity and jobs - in a way that works for businesses.
Of course, the best way to ensure that government policy truly reflects the needs of business is for government to talk to businesses.
The FSB has always played a vital role in making that dialogue happen. And now through our Entrepreneurs in Residence scheme, we have brought the finest business minds right into the heart of government.
I’m happy to say that when I spoke to your conference last I called for applications to these posts and can today announce that the Department is appointing 2 new Entrepreneurs in Residence. Simon Devonshire and Professor Timothy Dafforn.
Simon will be the new ‘scale-up’ entrepreneur, advising us on how to help small businesses achieve the growth and exports we all want to see. Simon is director of Wayra Europe, which hothouses new digital start-ups. And he has also co-founded 6 start-ups, 3 of which now have multi-million pound revenues.
Professor Dafforn will work with us on the exciting new industry of Synthetic Biology, which we believe has huge potential for the life sciences and energy sectors. He combines his career as a scientist with entrepreneurship and has founded 2 tech spin-out companies.
So we’re offering easy to understand and access support, and we’re making sure that businesses and entrepreneurs have a voice at the very heart of the Department for Business.
But today is also about celebrating achievement in enterprise.
And this is vital too.
The industrial revolution was dramatized through the achievements of rock-star engineers like Stephenson and Brunel. Now steam-power has given way to start-ups, and bridges to broadband - but we need to create the same excitement around enterprise, so that more people than ever before aspire to setting up their own business, to making the leap - to earning their own success in life.
So I’m pleased to announce the winners of the Enterprising Britain Awards. The support we provide to these awards underlines the importance we attach to creating a vibe for enterprise across the UK.
The winners are:
The Sharp Project, Manchester: Turning a vacant building into prestige space for digital start-ups.
Gower College “Primary to Professional”, Gower College Swansea: Making sure their young people from primary school to 30 years old have the enterprise skills they need.
e-factor project, Grimsby: Building confidence and skills.
South Devon Export Network: Doing what it says on the tin – a network to help local businesses reach international markets.
Two of these – The Sharp Project and Primary to Professional will now go on to take part in a further competition - the European Enterprise Promotion Awards. I wish them the very best for that and look forward to hearing how they got on when the results are published later this year.
Small business is where I come from. I know well that you’ve given up weekends, restful nights and a regular salary in pursuit of your dreams. I know you value success, because you’ve had to fight for it.
It’s that spirit which built this city, and which has rebuilt it, time and again.
Now, through the measures I have outlined, and through the bill I am leading through Parliament, I am determined that we spread that spirit of enterprise, initiative and endeavour right across Britain and help build an enterprising economy that works for all.