Oral statement to Parliament

Global Business Summit: Infrastructure

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles at the Global Business Summit


Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

In four days time we’ll be handing the Olympic flame onto Brazil. But when it leaves, the flame of opportunity, the flame of capability and the flame of progress will remain in the UK. And will continue to burn brightly in this magnificent city of London.

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Over in the Olympic Park are seven new arenas. Seven venues that are cause for wonder - cause for celebration. Not just because they were completed on time and under budget. But because they will enjoy a new lease of life once the Games is over. Either as a sporting venue here or - taken down and reassembled - in another corner of the globe.

And there is an eighth wonder too - the Olympic Park itself. A once barren wasteland brought to full bloom. A place thousands will soon call home. Close by Europe’s largest shopping centre. Near the site of a new tech city that will rival Silicon Valley. Crisscrossed by new bridges bringing communities together, and intersected by railway lines linking major business districts to more local people.

Now the spark that lit up the Olympic park has ignited a wildfire of creativity. Spreading eastwards. Illuminating the Thames Gateway. From the new development at South End Airport to the high speed manufacturing plant in Dagenham. From the Enterprise Zone in the fertile heart of the Royal Docks to the revitalised towns of Strand East, Canning Town and Woolwich Central.

It’s a transformation that calls to mind a verse from John Dryden, the greatest poet of his day, who more than 300 years ago watched a different London rise like a Phoenix from the embers of a Great Fire that had laid waste to his precious city. And inspired wrote:

Already from this chymic flame

I see a city of more precious mould,

Rich as the town which gives the Indies name,

With silver paved and all divine with gold.

So there is massive opportunity here to grasp the torch of investment, and to, in the words of John (Armitt not Dryden):

Stretch the moment.

And, for would be backers, Britain is an investors dream:

  • the easiest place to do business anywhere in Europe;
  • the lowest business tax rates available anywhere in any advanced country;
  • home to the world’s best universities;
  • birthplace of the language of business - English.

And it’s not like the old days when London was the only town in the game. Growth is spreading its wings right across the country.

We’ve Local Enterprise Partnerships - local business and local authorities - competing to be the best areas for inward investment.

And we’ve Enterprise Zones - relaxing planning rules, offering reduced business rates to encourage new investment.

Above all we’ve got brilliant British construction companies you can partner with. And, if the Olympic Park is a monument to anything it is a monument to their fantastic endeavour.

More than 1600 firms from up and down the land, the cream of our national construction, engineering, architectural and design talent, built 98 per cent of the Park.

They brought us the technical wonder of the Olympic Stadium, with a third of the steel of Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest’.

They produced an Olympic Village with the largest grouping of sustainable quality homes anywhere in the country.

They created the remarkable Energy Centre at the Olympic park - a renovated Edwardian sweet factory - whose innovative biomass boilers not only heat every single venue and build in the park at a radically reduced cost to the environment, but will, long after the Games, power new buildings and new communities.

And this well-spring of construction talent is unlikely to run dry any time soon, because to get the Park and village built we trained an army. Of the 46,000 people to have worked on the Olympic Park and Olympic Village, 10 per cent were previously unemployed. We gave them the skills they needed to complete Europe’s largest construction project.

And soon the Olympic Park will play host to new universities and new technical institutions so that our British production line will be fed by an inexhaustible tributary of talent far into the future.

Now we’re mightily proud of every single one of the construction companies who poured their talent and their time into making these such a fantastic Games. They are true Olympic heroes. And once the Games are over we’ll be looking for every opportunity for them to blow their own trumpets.

So these are great days to get in on the British shop floor. Days when we might say as Dryden once said:

The venturous merchant who designed more far,

And touches on our hospitable shore,

Charmed with the splendour of this northern star

Shall here unlade him and depart no more.

And our would-be investors have still to feast on the possibilities of what’s to come

  • Crossrail - Uniting the commercial might of West London with the growing power in the East of the city; and
  • High Speed 2 - The most ambitious national rail project this country has ever seen. Bringing the rest of the country closer than ever to the capital, and to our European and international gateways.

But this isn’t just about what you can do for us. It’s about what we can do for you. As the Chief Executive* of one large construction company remarked not so long ago:

The Olympics is a fantastic global shop window for British management expertise, design and construction skills, and that expertise can be exported to make other games equally impressive.

He’s spot on.

The one-time owner of our splendid venue today, The Duke of Sutherland, was known as the ‘Leviathan of wealth’. And today in our British construction industry there is a new Leviathan; of know-how, of talent, of confidence. Undaunted by the most enormous of tasks, in the shape of its life, charged up and ready to deliver. Any place, any time, anywhere.

So we’re looking ahead to see how we can pass the flame of our experience onto Sochi, host city of the next Winter Olympic Games. Onto Brazil, and beyond that onto Korea and Qatar.

And four days from now, when the curtain comes down on the greatest Games ever hosted, we won’t feel sad. We will feel excited for there are great days ahead for Great Britain.

(*Chief executive Michael Thirkettle of International consultant McBains Cooper.)