Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
It is an absolute pleasure to be here in Liverpool at the International Festival for Business.
This is the biggest event of its kind in the UK for over 60 years – nothing like it has been seen since the ‘Festival of Britain’.
That Festival brought people together to celebrate the nation’s recovery after the war – it celebrated Britain’s successes, took pride in our past, and looked ahead to a future of innovation.
And here at this Festival for Business we do the same.
We celebrate that our economy is recovering after the deepest recession since the Second World War.
Now we look ahead to finish the job.
Our long term economic plan is working.
We are now the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world.
We have a record number of people in work – for the first time in 35 years we have a higher employment rate than America.
And we have a budget deficit this year set to be half what it was.
Now we look to the future.
For there is much more that we have to do to build a more stable, balanced and resilient economy.
There are three key areas I want to focus on today – areas which I see as fundamental to that task.
We need to back small businesses, we need to boost UK exports and we need to ensure all parts of our country are growing.
First, small businesses.
I know how hard you work to build your firms, the risk you take in employing new staff, and the effort you put into building our economy.
And in the four years I’ve done this job, at Budget after Budget, I have backed you.
I’ve cut the small companies rate, and the main rate of corporation tax too, so we’ve now got the lowest business taxes of any major economy in the world.
We’ve reformed employment tribunals so that, yes we protect employment rights, but we also protect the right of those who build a company to not be sued out of existence.
And the number of cases going to employment tribunal has fallen by nearly 80% as a result.
I’ve backed your investments.
In 2012 I increased the Annual Investment Allowance ten-fold to £250,000.
And this year I’ve doubled it again to £500,000.
This April I introduced a brand new Employment Allowance, that eliminates the first £2,000 of jobs tax.
Over 98% of the benefit is going to SMEs.
But we’re not stopping there.
Next April I’m abolishing employer National Insurance completely for the under 21s.
If you give a young person a job, we’ll give you the support you need.
Second, we’re backing our exporters, especially our smaller exporters.
Yesterday in Number 11 Downing Street, I met with some inspirational small firms who are exporting their products around the world.
They told me that they had seen huge improvements in the service that UKTI offers them – and that’s because we’ve listened to you, we’ve focussed our support on small firms, focussed on new markets, and got an inspirational business leader to run it.
But I’m the first to say that’s not enough.
So what I want to do now is make our export finance the most competitive in Europe, with low rates, so it works for you.
I’ve funded new export promotion offices in China, South America, and that new emerging powerhouse – Africa.
And on Sunday I’m flying to India with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to meet the impressive new Indian government, to see what trade and investment we can do together with that exciting economy.
My message to you is very simple.
If you have the get-up-and-go to export around the world, then we will be with you every step of the way.
Third, we’ve got to make sure every part of our country is connected to the economy of the future.
That includes here in Liverpool, and across the north of England.
I’ve set out my vision of a Northern Powerhouse.
Bringing the cities of the north together as a team.
By providing the modern transport connections they need.
By backing their science and universities.
And by giving them the local power and control that a powerhouse economy needs.
Working together we can rev the engine of that powerhouse.
Here in Liverpool I’ve seen for myself the massive investment in the deep water dock, to take some of the biggest ships in the world.
We’ve backed the port of Liverpool, and reversed the crazy decisions that blocked cruise ships there.
I’ve worked with Jaguar Land Rover, and it is hugely exciting that they are bringing £200 million investment and hundreds of new jobs to Halewood.
And then there are the plans for the £260 million redevelopment of that cradle of international football stars, Anfield Stadium.
There have been over 4,000 jobs created in Liverpool in the last year alone.
The number of people claiming unemployment benefit is down by nearly a quarter since 2010.
This is what Liverpool is achieving today.
Just imagine what it can achieve tomorrow as part of a Northern Powerhouse.
Today I can announce that one of the country’s four new University Enterprise Zones will be right here in Liverpool.
This joint project between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University will develop some of the most sophisticated sensor technology in the world.
And we’re also announcing funding for University Enterprise Zones in Bradford, Bristol and Nottingham too.
A Northern Powerhouse also needs much better connections East to West, to create the equivalent of travelling around a single global city.
Here in Liverpool the government has already backed the Atlantic Gateway project – an inspirational idea to develop the full economic potential of the corridor along the Manchester Ship Canal, running all the way from the Mersey to Salford Quays.
But today I am backing the Atlantic Gateway even further, with nearly £35 million of government funding for four projects here in Liverpool.
Projects to back local transport routes, including those to Knowsley Industrial Park.
And over £10 million funding for the Halton Curve project, a railway line to connect up Liverpool, Cheshire, Warrington and North Wales.
I’ve set out my plan to create a Northern Powerhouse.
Today we start to deliver it.
Today we are investing in science.
We’re building the Atlantic Gateway.
And today I’m setting out how we’re going to connect up the great northern cities.
Sir David Higgins is going to produce an action plan for me ahead of the Autumn Statement.
He’ll look at how to bring HS2 to the north of England more quickly.
He’ll bring forward initial proposals for faster East-West connections – High Speed Three.
The route, the timescales and the cost.
Let me be clear. I don’t want the Northern Powerhouse to be just a grand idea that never becomes reality.
So I’ve got a fast-track plan to get it off the ground.
Combining the strengths of the northern cities.
That’s how we’ll build the Northern Powerhouse.
So as a government we are backing small businesses, boosting UK exports and unlocking the potential within all parts of the country.
We have many reasons to feel confident about what we have achieved on the economy so far, and excited for the future.
That is my message to you today, as I know many of you are from small businesses – be confident, the government is behind you, and you are crucial to building the next stage of our economic recovery.
The decisions we have taken to support businesses have not always been popular.
There are some who want to pull up the drawbridge and shut Britain off from the world.
They call for higher taxes on business, higher rates of income tax, more spending and more borrowing, a return of tribunals, more trade union powers.
An anti-business agenda that would undo the progress we’ve made so far, destroy jobs and put Britain back into the economic chaos we’ve worked so hard to escape.
But I want us to work together through the long term economic plan that is supporting a Britain of successful small businesses – investing, making and growing.
We’ve restored economic stability.
We’re bringing our debts under control.
And we’re becoming the competitive place to invest and do business.
Let me finish today by thanking you, and all who have worked to put on this event.
When I travel around the world meeting foreign governments and investors, I am selling Britain as a brand.
Events like this International Festival for Business make that job easier – it is shop window for global markets, and a reminder that we can be proud of a stamp that reads ‘Made in Britain’.
So today I am also backing this initiative – committing the funding requested by Joe Anderson at the Liverpool City Council, for another Festival here in Liverpool in 2016.
I hope I will be back, able to talk of more growth in the economy, even higher employment, and a deeper relationship with global markets.
And I will work with all of you here, alongside local MPs, like the brilliant Esther McVey, and the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, to put on an event that is even bigger and better in two years time.
So we can continue to put Britain, and this great city of Liverpool, out front in the global race.