Prime Minister’s speech: Commonwealth Games Business Conference

Held prior to the Opening Ceremony, the conference was the main focus of the business programme during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

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

David Cameroon

Thank you John. Well I don’t know how you started the day John but I started with a swim off the east coast of Shetland, and so I’ve come here to warm myself under the sun of Glasgow. And it is fantastic to be here at this great university and in Glasgow today. The athletes are arriving; the venues are ready; the crowds are gearing up; the sun is shining and we are looking forward to a fantastic Commonwealth Games.

For us, the legacy of these games won’t just be measured in medals won or records broken, though, of course, those things are great; it will be measured in young lives inspired, Glasgow promoted to the world and yes, also, in deals done, contracts won, businesses boosted and jobs created.

Remember, at London 2012 we didn’t just win 65 medals; we switched the world back on to London and the United Kingdom, and we won £14 billion for our economy, in sales, investment and contracts. That is the British way: going for gold in all its forms. And that is what these games are about too: showing off Glasgow, Scotland and the United Kingdom to the world.

Now, I have on occasion been accused of being a bit of a salesman, and frankly I take that as a compliment, not an insult. I see it as a big part of my job to sell the United Kingdom – to bang the drum for our businesses – and that is what I’m here to do today.

So I want to set out the 3 big commitments that we have made to make Britain such a good place to invest, to partner and to do business with. Commitment number one is making Britain the world’s most open and welcoming economy. This country is the largest destination for foreign direct investment in Europe. And that didn’t just happen by accident; investors didn’t just close their eyes and stick a pin in a map. They opened their eyes and they saw an open and welcoming economy, with corporation tax which, at 21%, is set to be the lowest in the G7; a patent box that slashes taxes for those who are developing new products and making them here; and generous tax relief for research and development.

Investors also see historic levels of investment in infrastructure too. Right here in Scotland we’ve got a £1 billion city deal for Glasgow, a £230 million loan guarantee for Grangemouth, £100 million invested to extend rural broadband from Eyemouth to Stromness. This is taking place right across the United Kingdom. We’ve got the biggest construction project anywhere in Europe going on under London in Crossrail, and we’ve given the green light to a new high speed North South railway line.

So when you add all this to the UK’s other advantages – our time zone; the fact we speak the world’s global language; the fact we have some of the best universities in the world – not least here in Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Stirling – that we have Scotland’s wind and waves, it’s oil and gas, its creativity and innovation – then I believe you have a truly enticing prospect for any international investor.

That is why we’ve seen foreign direct investment going up and up. It’s why we saw a record breaking 1,773 projects funded by foreign investors last year, like the Swedish company Vattenfall building wind farms in Wales; like Australia’s Wolf Minerals investing in metal exploration in Devon; and like Belgian payments company Clear2Pay expanding its base here in Scotland.

Indeed, foreign investment in UK assets is now 63% of our GDP, with Malaysia helping to rebuild our cities, India investing in our cars and Dubai working on our ports. Again, if you look at the North Sea, and it’s not just the UK that’s investing in our oil and gas industry: it’s Norway, it’s the UAE. I was with the French company Total this morning in the Shetlands. Look at Silicon Glen and it’s not just Britain funding the latest technology: it’s America, it’s Switzerland. Look at the Moray Firth and it’s not just local companies ploughing money into offshore wind: it’s Japan, it’s Spain.

Today, foreign investment in the UK is at its highest level since records began. But that’s not a reason to rest on our laurels; it’s a reason to go even further. And we are. Investment keeps rolling in. We’ve got CGI almost doubling its Glasgow workforce; Kaiam Corporation building a new production facility in Livingstone; and SAS, Wipro and Clough all expanding and creating more jobs here in the UK.

And talking of investment, I’m delighted that Flybe has today announced that it’s investing in a new route, launching daily flights from Aberdeen to London City later this year, keeping connected the thriving economy of North East Scotland.

Now, commitment number 2 has been to promote trade and industry around the world. When I came into the government I walked over to the Foreign Office and I said to the ambassadors and the officials there, ‘Your job description is changing.’ To our diplomats I said, ‘You’re not just ambassadors for the UK; you are ambassadors for UK Plc.’ To our ministers, I said, ‘You’re not just representing UK government; you are representing UK businesses.’

Where British foreign policy was in retreat, it is now on the advance. Where trade was seen as secondary it is not absolutely at the heart of our diplomacy. Where Britain was focusing on its continental neighbours, rather than its Commonwealth friends, exports to non EU countries have increased by nearly 19%. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been a big part of connecting us with the fastest growing parts of the world. And yes, that includes the Commonwealth. And I’ve hired people out of British industry like Ian Livingston, our Trade Minister, who for many years ran BT, to make sure we bring commercial brains into the heart of the work that we do.

We’ve increased our diplomatic presence in India; it is now bigger than any other country including America’s, and only this month we announced a new Deputy High Commission in Ahmedabad. We’ve expanded our reach in Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Mongolia, Nigeria and many more.

I’ve personally taken trade delegations right around the world, from Brazil to Malaysia, with business people from around the UK, including companies like Aggreko and Standard Life from here in Scotland. And with UKTI, we’ve been running a totally unprecedented promotional campaign, the GREAT campaign, emblazoning the union flag from the skyscrapers of Dubai to the tuk tuks of Cambodia, and telling people that Great Britain is a great place to come and do business.

Now all of this, I believe, is working. We need to rebalance our economy, and that is happening. Our exports to China are up by 115%, to India by 55%. I believe this can be a golden era for UK exports, driven by some of our luxury brands.

To give you just one example from here in Scotland, Scotch whisky is selling at record levels from America to China to Russia to the Gulf. In fact, sales are now worth £135 a second to the UK balance of trade. The prizes for businesses in Scotland and across the UK are incredible, and that’s why I’ll keep on flying the flag for Britain with every chance I can.

Now, commitment number 3 is backing the United Kingdom’s strengths. My industrial policy is clear, I don’t believe in picking winners, but I do believe in backing them. Wherever the UK has a strength, we should build on it. Wherever we have an advantage, we should make the most of it. And you only have to look around Scotland to see some of the big strengths that we have in this country. Up in the Rosyth shipyard we have just launched the largest aircraft carrier, the largest ship ever delivered to the Royal Navy, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. In Edinburgh, the city’s getting a name as a global hub for tech start up. [indistinct] in the expertise won through years of deep sea exploration and applying it to creating the newest sources of green energy.

Now, one of the UK’s greatest strengths of course is financial services. And it is a Scottish strength too, supporting over 2,000 jobs here. And there’s an inextricable link between the success of the city of London and the globally renowned financial centres of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow.

Now, as a government we don’t just see these industries and think, ‘Well that’s fantastic, let the tax revenues roll in,’ we are an unashamedly active – an activist government. So we want to back Scotland’s biggest success stories, and we’re doing everything we can to help.

So, removing the barriers to selling Scotch whisky around the world; giving decommission relief to the oil and gas industry; reducing taxes for the film and gaming industries. Those are some of the commitments to take the giants of British industry and make them greater still. And I hope that one of the things that comes out of this conference is where your industry has ideas that make a difference in terms of backing, in terms of support, in terms of promotion - you’ll come and talk directly to us about the difference that we can make.

Now, I’d like to end by saying this, the Commonwealth has a great history of trade. We are after all a Commonwealth not just united by history, culture and values, but by trade and prosperity too. And the UK, with Scotland at its heart, has a great history of trade too.

This is the country of great inventors, like Alexander Graham Bell, who made the telephone and exported it to the world; it’s the country of great thinkers like Adam Smith who paved the way for modern industrial economies; and it’s the country of textile merchants like Alexander Chalmers whose trading relationship with Poland was so close he ended up living there and becoming Mayor of Warsaw.

And together, I believe we can have a great future too. We are committed to achieving that by creating the open, welcoming economy I spoke about, by promoting trade and industry around the world and by getting full-square behind our great UK industries so we can make them greater still. What we need you to do is to come here to invest.

So welcome to Scotland and enjoy the games.

Published 23 July 2014