Thank you for that introduction, thank you for that welcome. Great to be here, great to be standing in front of our GREAT campaign posters. We are very proud of the Great campaign advertising Great Britain, the United Kingdom. I heard yesterday that the French are now looking at their own version, and so what greater compliment could there be than being copied by our friends and neighbours.
Minister Iswaran, David Kiu, ladies and gentlemen, it is really great to be here.
The last time I was at Unilever actually was at your HQ in the north of England, the middle of January. Although it was called Port Sunlight, it is rather warmer here than it was in that January morning.
Since I’ve been Prime Minister, I’ve taken trade missions to every corner of the globe. I’ve loaded up planes with our innovators and wealth creators; I’ve banged the drum for Britain from China to America to India.
But today represents a real first. It’s the first time I’ve ever been accompanied by a Northern Powerhouse trade delegation.
Let me explain what to me the Northern Powerhouse is all about. The north of England is home to 17 million people and 600,000 businesses. It’s a driving force in the UK economy.
We make more cars in Sunderland than they do in the whole of Italy. The county of Yorkshire created more jobs last year than the whole of France. The north is home to 23 of our top-notch universities. In the north of England we’re creating a job every 6 and a half minutes.
And our mission is this: to link up our great cities, like Leeds, like Manchester, like Liverpool, like Newcastle. To link them up with better transport, yes of course, but also to link them up to make them incubators for enterprise – creating jobs, improving lives and going for growth.
We also want to link up our universities, our great teaching hospitals, our great science businesses in the North of England. To increase their strength, their ability to create wealth and jobs. We’re basically doing what Singapore has been doing for half a century – reaching the critical mass that leads to success.
We call it the Northern Powerhouse. And where better to bring its brightest businesses than Singapore – one of the powerhouses of the modern economic world.
Old ties, new links
It’s just a few months since President Tan made his state visit to the United Kingdom. He spoke at length about the shared history of our 2 countries – about a relationship of what he called “old ties, new links and more opportunities”.
And we see those old ties all around us. From the moment Sir Stamford Raffles landed on the southern tip of Malaya, Britain and Singapore’s relationship has centred on trade. Half the investment that we make in South East Asia heads straight for Singapore. And when Singapore invests in the EU, three-quarters of that investment, three quarters of that investment comes to the United Kingdom.
In a city-state of just over 5 million people, there are over 1,000 British companies. You can drive a Jaguar here, you can bank at HSBC, drink Johnny Walker whisky. And in Britain, too, you can see Singaporean enterprise wherever you go. London buses, the RAC, the Bluewater Shopping Centre – they’re all backed by Singaporean investment. And we can build on that – and we can do it with new links.
And there is one new link I’m focused on today: a link between our great northern cities and this great city-state.
Now people might ask: “What’s the north of England got to do with the southernmost tip of continental Asia?” And the answer is: a lot.
Look at Bentley – here since 1931, with the oldest dealership outside the UK – and still going strong. Look at Delamere Dairy – nearly 30 years ago, it started as a small company with a handful of goats – now it’s selling all over Singapore. At Singapore’s Keppel – which has invested over £230 million to eventually divert three-quarters of Greater Manchester’s waste from landfill sites to an energy facility. And I’m delighted that FutureEverything has won a £500,000 contract to bring its long-established festival for digital culture from Manchester to Singapore in September.
Now look, too, at the businesses with us today. Look at Vernacare, whose science helps prevent infections from NHS hospitals to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone; look at ATG Access, who, in just a few years, have become Europe’s largest manufacturer of security barrier systems – both from the north-west of England – and both great examples of what the Northern Powerhouse has to offer.
Now those new links breed the other thing President Tan talked about – and that is more opportunities. Singapore continues to restructure itself to meet its future vision of a knowledge-driven economy and to maintain its position as a regional centre.
As you do so, Britain has the experience in areas like smart cities, cyber, transport, advanced engineering and finance that you want. And we are brimming with fantastic infrastructure and regeneration opportunities, many of them across the north of England.
So my message to you today, if you’re exploring exports, is this. Take a risk, sign that first deal, make those links, grab those opportunities. You have the full support and backing of this government. A business-friendly, investment friendly government that wants an open economy creating jobs.
And I believe the foundation of a relationship between two countries, with such strong ties – old and new. And I really would encourage, as I would to Singaporean investors today, I really would encourage you to look at Britain in a new way. There’s plenty of investment opportunity of course in London and the south-east. London is an amazing global city.
But look again at the north of England. We’ve brought with us today the new interim Mayor of Manchester, the Leader of Leeds City Council. Look again at these great cities, look at housing opportunities, look for retail opportunities, look at the investment opportunities. We want to rebalance our country and we want Singaporean and other south-east Asian investors to help us to do it.
That is what the Northern Powerhouse is all about.
So let today be the day we cement this link between our countries – this partnership between our great northern cities and this great city-state.
From the North Sea to the Singapore Strait – let’s get more trade flowing. From Bedok to Bradford; from Sembawang to Stockton – let’s see more jobs created. That’s what the Northern Powerhouse is all about. That’s what this trade mission is all about.
I think it’s something which would make Sir Stamford Raffles – a Yorkshireman by blood – very proud. And I’m sure he’s looking down at us today, and I think it’s something that should make us all very proud, too.
Thank you for coming, thank you for listening but above all, thank you for investing and trading.
Thank you very much indeed.