Prime Minister David Cameron's speech and Q&A on growth, infrastructure, agriculture, quality of life and tourism in the East of England.
Now I’ve come to Suffolk today to announce our long-term economic plan for the East of England. And there’s nowhere better to do that, than right here at the Port of Felixstowe. You’re covering an area bigger than the City of London, you’ve got cranes higher than Big Ben, ships longer than the height of the Shard. This port handles so many containers in a year that if you laid them end-to-end they would stretch from here to Australia, and half way back again. The extraordinary scale of the trade you’re pioneering is not just fundamental to the success of this region; it’s fundamental to the success of the whole country.
We’ll only be successful as a nation if we get out there and earn our way in the world. And with your exports to the fastest growing Asian markets – up by two fifths in the last 5 years alone – that is exactly what you’re helping to do. Put simply, you are increasing Britain’s footprint in the world. And not just through trade. Your building of new and expanded berths is literally extending our shores out into the North Sea. And I’m delighted today to welcome the latest £200 million investment by Hutchison Whampoa for a new deep-water berth, in addition to the extension of berths 8 and 9. Your success is one part of an exciting story of economic recovery that is beginning to take place right across the East of England; a recovery that has seen the fastest growth in employment anywhere in England outside London since 2010. There are, in this region, nearly 200,000 more people in work, over 190,000 more apprentices, nearly 80,000 more businesses. And the latest data showing productivity growth in the region now outstripping England as a whole.
But for all this progress, the job is far from done, and our future success far from guaranteed. It will depend critically on the decisions we take now: on dealing with the deficit so we don’t hand down an impossible burden of debt to our children; on cutting taxes, so that people keep more of their own money to spend as they choose; on backing business, because they are the creators of jobs and growth in our economy; and on creating a welfare system that rewards work; and an immigration system that is tough, controlled and unashamedly in our national interest; and on tackling the dumbing down and low educational standards of the past, so we have the best schools and skills for the next generation.
In each of these areas, our long-term economic plan isn’t just doing what’s right for our economy, it’s about doing what’s right for our country. Now, today I want to talk about what this means for the East of England, and in particular the steps we’re now going to take to see through our plan here in this region. This includes transforming the infrastructure that has frankly held the East of England back for too long. It means backing the region’s unique strengths in science, technology, defence, agriculture and energy. It means improving the quality of life for this region. And above all, it means delivering the jobs and growth on which our future prosperity depend.
And let me say a word about each. First: infrastructure. For a region like the East of England, with large rural areas, it’s more important than ever that we have first class infrastructure, whether it’s getting goods to and from the port here in Felixstowe, or helping commuters, businesses, local residents and tourists alike. You need better trains, better roads and better access to broadband. Now we’ve already been working to a plan committing £4.2 billion of investment in transport in the East of England, and we’ve already delivered some key components, like the Ipswich Chord, vital here in Felixstowe, like the A11. A dual carriageway from London to Norwich was first mooted back in 1935, but this government said it would do it, and we have delivered it ahead of time and under budget.
Now today we’re going further. On our railways, we’re already working on an east‑west railway from Oxford to Cambridge. But I want to extend that work to look at improving the service to Ipswich and Norwich. We’re going to launch a detailed study on electrifying the line from Felixstowe to Birmingham. And we’re also today launching the competition for the new East Anglia rail franchise. This will require bidders to show how they’ll improve services, how they will create state-of-the-art rolling stock, and help us ultimately to deliver the aspiration of getting from London to Norwich in 90 minutes. This is a fantastic local campaign, which has been brilliantly championed by your MPs, including Ben Gummer, Therese Coffey, Priti Patel and Chloe Smith.
Now on the roads, we’re pushing ahead with our plans to transform the regions road network, including the £1.5 billion investment in the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, and an expressway from Cambridge to Bedford and Milton Keynes. We can now see the beginning of a major upgrade to the A12, with the additional of a third lane between Colchester and Chelmsford. And in time we’ll see the transformation of the A47 around Peterborough, Norwich and Great Yarmouth.
On broadband, we’ve already invested over £100 million in our rural broadband programme. But we’re now extending our connection voucher scheme – this is for small businesses; it’s worth up to £3,000 – for more business to access faster and better broadband. That is going live in Peterborough today, with Ipswich and Norwich joining very shortly. Meanwhile, Huntingdon has been chosen by BT for a trial of their ultrafast technology, which will begin this summer. Now all these changes, together with the continued development of this great port, will help to give the East of England the infrastructure it needs for the future.
Science and technology
Now, next we’re going to do everything we can to build on the region’s great strengths in science and technology. This includes investing almost £5 million in the Cambridge Science Park Technology Centre which, together with match-funding from Trinity College, will provide fantastic support for small, high‑tech businesses in the life sciences sector. At the same time, we’re welcoming exciting proposals, like the ambition for a 43-acre Knowledge Gateway at Essex University. This could provide a new focal point for research and business collaboration, and could create, in itself, up to 2,000 jobs.
We are also going to play to our strengths in defence. This region has a great history in terms of the defence of our nation: from the radar station at Bawdsey, to the 67 airfields that provided bases for US Air Force bombing raids over Germany. So I’m delighted that RAF Marham will be the home of the UK’s first F35 joint strike fighter fleet. And I can announce today that the investment plans we’re developing could potentially be worth up to £300 million. We’re taking action already through the Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth action group, chaired by Matt Hancock, to ensure that we’re ready when those bases close. And with America’s decision to make RAF Lakenheath the largest F35 operating base in Europe, the East of England will, I believe, be the UK’s fast‑jet hub, and the first line of defence at home and abroad. And in the process, this will support over 500 very high value, very high‑end engineering jobs.
Now third, we want to capitalise on the inherent strengths of the East in agriculture and energy. Now whether it’s plant breeding or crop management, the super broccoli developed by the John Innes Centre or indeed the i-crop developed by PepsiCo and Cambridge University, using data from soil moisture probes to inform better irrigation, this region – right across this region – it is leading the way in cutting-edge agriculture developments. And I am clear that the government should do everything it can to get behind this very dynamic sector. So, we are continuing to commit to a significant part of the Centre of Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in Lowestoft, and developing a new five-year plan to renovate the site and further commercialise the business. We’ll be promoting agriculture in the East as part of our Grown in Britain business programme. That is also going to be showcased at the World Expo in Milan, which has a particular focus this year on feeding the planet. And I want this region, with its proud agricultural heritage, to be at the forefront of the next round of food enterprise zones, because these can bring new investment, jobs and growth to food and farming businesses across the region.
Now, just as we’re taking steps to support agriculture, so we need to do the same for energy. Now this region has great strength and breadth in its energy sector; you’ve got offshore wind obviously, nuclear power and also the largest gas field in the southern North Sea for 25 years. Over the next 2 decades, £50 billion is going to be invested in energy, and I want to make sure the East of England has everything it needs to make the most of this. Now that means supporting the future growth of the great Yarmouth and Lowestoft enterprise zone, which is already on track to create 15,000 new jobs by May this year, and it means working with the local enterprise partnership – and I’ll be meeting with some of them later today – to tackle skills barriers, so people can more easily move jobs between one energy sector and another. And it also means, crucially, working with Electricité de France – EDF – and the Suffolk Energy Coast Delivery Board to make sure that local businesses are really able to make the most of the supply chain opportunities from the multi-billion pound investment that will take place at Sizewell C. We’re making sure that happens in Somerset with Hinkley Point. I want to put exactly the same amount of effort into making sure we get all the benefits here in Suffolk from Sizewell C.
Quality of life
Next, we’re taking steps to improve quality of life in the region. This includes more homes, better education and backing the region as a great tourist destination. So we are going to support the construction of 15,000 new homes, we’re going to make improvements to local education with an ambition that over 91,000 more pupils attend outstanding schools in the East of England, and we’re going to take decisive action in areas where schools are under-performing. We know that schools need strong leaders to improve. That’s why we’ve invested in enabling great leaders to work in this region. From this September, the first cohort of talented leaders – that is, great heads and other leaders – will start working in the region’s most challenging schools. But now we also want to do more with middle level school leaders, people like heads of years, heads of subjects. And so today we are announcing we’ll support the secondment of 30 excellent middle leaders to work in challenging schools, right here in the East of England.
And finally, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be getting right behind tourism in the region. From the picturesque Suffolk villages of Lavenham and Long Melford, to the seaside towns of Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and, of course, Felixstowe – not to mention North Norfolk where I’ve been on holiday myself – the East of England has so much to offer, and we’re going to do everything we can to support it, including today backing the redevelopment of Drill Hall in Great Yarmouth into a circus and street art centre, and we’re going to make a million pound investment into the restoration of Norwich Castle, to help draw a new generation of visitors to this regional landmark.
Growth and jobs
Now, all these different steps are ultimately about one thing, and that is creating growth and jobs. If we stick to the plan we’ve set out, we can add more than £12 billion to the local economy in real terms by 2030, with an extra 250,000 jobs in the next 5 years alone. These aren’t just figures; they mean 250,000 more people with the dignity of work, the pride of a pay cheque and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to provide for themselves and their families. And they mean growth rates which would be worth nearly £2,000 to every single person living in this region by 2030.
Between 1997 and 2013, the East of England grew on average by 4% a year. The UK as a whole grew by 4.2%. Now that may sound like a small gap on paper, and it’s smaller than for many other parts of the country but, nonetheless, if you close that gap, then you can get a major increase in prosperity, and that’s what the long term plan I’m announcing today is all about. It means increasing the long-term growth rate of the East of England to at least the forecast rate for the whole of the United Kingdom, so that this region never falls behind again.
Now, of course this will take time, and it won’t be easy, but if we stick to the plan, we will see a truly national recovery, with new economic life felt in every town and city in the east, and across our country. That is our ambition. That is what’s really at stake with this long term economic plan, and that is why it’s so important that we all work together to deliver it.
Thank you very much indeed for listening.
Prime Minister, you highlighted the importance of exports to UK growth, and Mr Cheng, earlier on, highlighted that through Felixstowe there’s been an increase of 20% since 2010. How do you think we maintain that momentum into the future for exports?
Well thank you. I think – look, it is important. We need to trade our way to growth, as well as having growth here at home. And if we look back over the last 4 and a half years, our exports to European markets are up some 7% or 8%; our exports to countries around the rest of the world, much, much faster. Maybe 4 times as fast as to Europe. And I think what we need to do is make sure we are conquering those fast growing markets, not just China and India but also countries like Brazil and Turkey and South Africa, countries that have the potential to be great growth markets.
Now, I think there’s no one single thing that needs to be done, but I think we need to make sure we’re investing in trade promotion. UKTI I think does a good job. We also need to make sure the Foreign Office is thinking very hard about the prosperity agenda as well as diplomacy, and they are. We need to keep up the trade missions led by Ministers, often led by me, to different parts of the world. We need to advertise and promote British produce and what Britain has to offer, but we have to get all the other things right in our economy as well: the schools and the skills, the transport and all the things I was discussing here.
I think there’s a great potential for Britain because, if we play to our strengths, in areas like life sciences, we’re number 2 in the world. In areas like, for instance, aerospace, we’re second after the Americans. So I think there are some really strong areas of industry we can promote, but I think if there was one challenge I wanted to pick out, it would be getting our small and medium sized businesses exporting. Today, about 1 in 5 of them export; if we could make that 1 in 4, we’d probably wipe out our trade deficit altogether. So I think that is probably one of the biggest things that we can do. But all the while – it’s worth saying it while we’re in Felixstowe – investing in the infrastructure of trade is also vital.
There’s also a good picture on rebalancing the economy. If you look what we’re doing – what’s happening in the port of Liverpool, that would actually make sure more exports from the North of England and imports to the North of England go through Liverpool, and actually rebalance our economy as well between north and south, which is worthwhile for the whole country.
Roads and imports
One: you touched on it, but could you confirm that the now toll-free A14 investment between Cambridge and Huntingdon will happen on time? And secondly, given that we are standing in the Port of Felixstowe, the UK’s largest port, that accounts to 45% of UK imports, but also is gateway to the world for many exporters, what will this current government and your future government, should you continue in post, do in terms of future investment in the A14, particularly around key gateways like Orwell Bridge?
As I set out in my speech, the plans we have, whether it’s the A14, A12, A47, all those plans are on track. The money is identified in budgets. We’ve set out a capital spending programme all the way out to 2020 and beyond. So the money is there. There is always a challenge to make sure that work goes ahead on time, because in an advanced democracy there are all sorts of planning and other obstacles you have to get over. But I’m confident, just as we have delivered on the A11, so we will deliver on these other projects.
On ports, the second part of your question: we have already delivered the Ipswich Chord, which was quite essential in getting more freight off the road and on to railway, which has benefited the Port of Felixstowe right here. So we need to keep going with that and, as you say, the other road projects that you mention.
Childcare and offshore wind farms
Firstly, childcare: there’s a report out which says childcare costs have improved – have risen by a third. Are you concerned that nurseries are pushing up costs, and would you call on them to keep their prices fair for parents? Secondly, on offshore wind farms: the largest offshore wind farm in Britain has got the okay recently. Are you concerned by the scale of development of offshore wind farms, and would you consider tightening regulations after the election if re-elected?
First of all, offshore wind farms, I think this is an important technology, and it’s one where Britain is literally world-beating. We have the largest offshore wind farm already in our country, and we have a very good share of this industry. And what is exciting about that, a little further north from here but also on the east coast, is the Siemens investment in Hull is bringing a whole new industry to the east coast of Britain in terms of large turbine design and manufacture, and that is going to spawn a supply industry in terms of offshore wind, where we’ll be supplying not only the offshore wind industry for the UK, but very probably for large parts of Europe as well. So it’s a good example of what I’m talking about today: getting behind core strengths in our country and in our regions and backing them. And I think that is all to the – the good.
On the question about childcare, of course I’m concerned about making sure childcare is affordable for many families. It’s the biggest point of discussion, decision and the biggest concern: ‘Can I make the bills add up so that I can afford childcare and work the hours I want to work?’
Now, the government already does a lot to help. We provide 15 hours of funded childcare for all 3 year olds and 4 year olds. That’s been extended and expanded under this government. And also, we supply help through the tax credit system. The next stage in helping families with childcare is going to be this tax relief on child care which will be worth up to £2,000 per child. And I think for many families, on – on middle earnings – for many families, I think it’ll make a real difference because they’ll be able to make that choice about whether they want to work or want to work more hours to suit their needs. So we do need more operators into childcare. We need to make sure costs are kept down. And we need to help families with the childcare that they want to help them to live the life that they choose.
You talked about 15,000 new homes, and we certainly do need new homes, but it’s very much a question of the right homes in the right place. We currently have a National Planning Policy Framework which is not working terribly well, and resulting in opportunistic planning applications being made for homes in a variety of places, which many local authorities are having some trouble resisting. I wonder what your government can do about, perhaps, controlling this slightly dysfunctional system.
First of all, the 15,000 homes I’m announcing today, those are – if you look at the plans for affordable housing for this region of the country, what we expect should be built. But let me answer very directly how the planning system is working, and how it’s going to work in the future.
We’ve created a system with a much simpler National Planning Policy Framework. We took a thousand pages of guidance and turned that into 50 very straightforward and simple proposals, at the heart of which is a belief in sustainable development. Now, what is happening now is that local councils have to put in place their proper local plans. Once those plans are in place they will have greater ability to say yes to development that fits in with their plan and no to development that does not fit in with their plan. And that, I think, will all be to the good. That would be a genuinely – transferring more decision‑making to local areas about them being able to decide the shape of housing developments in their area.
Now, obviously, that begs the question: what about before the plan comes in? And the concern you have, sir, that you – you may get a situation where developers put forward proposals and get them through on appeal that might go against the spirit of the local plan. That’s the concern. What the government has done is made very clear through some amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework that local councils and inspectors can take into account existing plans and previous plans. They can take into account, for instance, the amount of homes that an area has managed to build before, to take into councils that have actually been effective at making sure development goes ahead sustainably and sensibly. And I think that’s very important, because what we want is planning and local decision‑making to go hand‑in‑hand.
I think the problem with the old system was there was really no incentive for anyone to support development anywhere, because of course local councils didn’t keep the council tax, they didn’t keep the business rates, they didn’t get any money if development went ahead. Now we have a situation where a council, if it decides to allow development to go ahead, it does keep a share of the business rates, it does get the new homes bonus, so it has an interest in sensible development, but once the local plan is in place it will be even more able to make decisions that suit the local area. But we have taken action even before that happens to make sure that pre-existing local plans and local thinking can be taken into account.
Russia and Bomber Command
Prime Minister, we learned this morning that two Russian bombers were escorted by the RAF off of the Cornwall coast. How concerned are you about the Russian threat to the UK? And if I may, do you agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury, saying his, ‘Profound regret and deep sorrow,’ over the Allied bombing raids of Dresden?
First of all, let me deal with the issue of these Russian planes. And I want to reassure people. When this happens, what we do is we launch our Typhoon aircraft, and they escort these planes out of the UK area of interest, and when this happened most recently, at no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into UK sovereign airspace. I think what this episode demonstrates is that we do have the fast jets, the pilots, the systems in place to protect the United Kingdom. I suspect what’s happening here is the Russians are trying to make some sort of a point, and I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response.
On the issue of the work of Bomber Command in the Second World War, I think that Bomber Command played an absolutely vital role in our war effort. One of the things I was very proud to do as Prime Minister was make sure that people who served in Bomber Command got proper recognition, with a new clasp on their medals. And it was a great honour to hand out some of those medals to people who had waited for many, many years for the recognition I think they deserved. I’m very lucky to occasionally get to jog round St. James’s Park in London, and I always stop and look up at the Bomber Command Memorial that has been so recently built and dedicated, and stop and think about those very brave people who took enormous risks, the incredible loss of life on our behalf, to save Europe, to save Britain from fascism, from Hitler. To me, the people who served in Bomber Command are heroes of our country, and they played a very important role in the Second World War, which, of course, we’ll be commemorating VE day properly in May when it comes around, this the seventieth anniversary.
Food and agriculture
Thanks for what you said about agriculture. It’s very important. This region grows 12% of the UK’s wheat and 25% of our turkeys. And a lot of work’s been done: high‑tech strategy and the new enterprise zones, and Grown in Britain is a good promotion. Could I encourage you to actually get local authorities and government departments to understand that sourcing Grown in Britain probably will help imports through this port?
The short answer to that is yes. I think we’ve had some helpful things in recent years, like the Red Tractor standard, which has, I think, given an advantage to British producers, because we have some of the cleanest, best meat in the world in our country, some of the best-produced produce, and that’s been able to hit the Red Tractor standard and people know what they’re getting. But I do think there’s more we can do to encourage local authorities, schools, hospitals, the Ministry of Defence, other departments, to try, within the rules, of course, but within the rules, to source their produce from British producers. And I think that is very important when you think of the quality of British produce, and the jobs that it creates. So what we’ve got here, as you say, is a strategy: it includes food enterprise zones, it includes getting behind food exports, it is about de-regulating responsibly, so that food producers aren’t tied up in red tape, but I do think support from public procurement, within the rules, is a good way to help boost British agriculture and British farming and British produce.