Good morning – it’s great to be here today to see for myself the variety of business activity taking place in Weymouth, Portland and this beautiful county of Dorset.
Thank you for the invitation – and thank you to the Chambers of Commerce for being such a powerful champions of the business community.
I bring a very simple message with me.
You are the people who are creating this country’s jobs and growth.
The businesses – the employers – the innovators – the exporters.
We, as a government, will do all we can to support you.
Since July of last year, I have been a Minister in the Treasury – part of a team, led by the Chancellor, putting in place a solid and lasting recovery for this country, which helps people and hardworking households across the UK.
I have always maintained that businesses have to be at the heart of that recovery.
Over the country, over three fifths of small businesses expect to grow in 2015, according to the latest research from the Federation of Small Businesses.
That translates directly into jobs, opportunities, and a higher standard of living – including here.
Indeed, here in Weymouth and Portland, employment has risen by 2,100 over the last year and by 4,800 – that’s a fifth – since 2010.
That’s part of a wider picture. Across the south-west, employment has risen by 81,000 over the last year and by 128,000 since 2010.
And these jobs aren’t in the public sector. Each and every job is evidence of a business starting… expanding… succeeding.
I’m passionate about helping businesses succeed – it probably stems back to my upbringing, literally above a shop.
There I learnt a lot about the pressures on small businesses.
About the daily worries about the figures on the balance sheet, maintaining cashflow, dealing with employee relations or simply coping with the paperwork.
And about how all too often central government is not a help but a hindrance.
So my rule of thumb is: how can we, in Westminster, help you to grow and succeed?
There are four areas we have been particularly focused on.
The first is cutting regulation.
Now, every politician says they want to cut regulation.
But we’re delivering. Because we introduced a One-in One-out rule and then made it a One-in-Two out policy, and because we have frozen any new legislation that affects the smallest businesses, we will be the first government in modern history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation rather than increasing it.
Those measures alone translate into a reduction in the cost to business of around £1.5 billion a year.
And we’re taking the fight to Europe as well. I know that many of you export – so it makes no sense at all to hamper you with unnecessary regulation. We’ve got Brussels to accept our principles on reducing the regulatory burden. One day we might even get them to introduce a One-in One-out rule!
But I do not think we should ever rest on our laurels. So my challenge today is: if there’s a piece of regulation holding you back, or putting you at a disadvantage, let us know. Our doors are always open to any proposal which makes the UK more competitive.
The second area is taking less of your money away from you.
It is, after all, your money, not the government’s. I sometimes have to remind people in Westminster and Whitehall of that!
So we have focussed strongly on cutting taxes to make the UK as competitive as possible…
…and putting in place measures which will provide particular support to small and medium-sized business.
Pretty much one of the first things we did in 2010 was cutting the main rate of corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to 21% as of April 2014. From April 2015 it will be 20%, the lowest in the G20.
We introduced the annual £2,000 Employment Allowance to reduce the cost of employer NICs. This benefits around 1.3m businesses and lifts up to 500,000 small businesses and charities out of NICs altogether in this financial year.
We’ve doubled the Annual Investment Allowance to £500,000 until 2016. This covers the total qualifying investment of 99.8% of firms, or 4.9 million businesses.
And, last December, we introduced a £1 billion business rates support package, building on the £2.7 billion Autumn Statement 2013 package, benefitting all ratepayers but particularly small businesses and retailers.
We’re allowing you to keep more of your money in other ways, too – because I know that for the family-run businesses the money often goes into and comes out of the same pot.
Our freeze of the fuel duty escalator has meant that a litre of petrol is 18p cheaper than it would have been if we had stuck with the plans from 2010.
And we’re reforming childcare to give working families funding of up to £2,000 per child per year to cover costs.
These reforms are of course designed to help out people with the cost of living.
But they also allow our smallest businesses to invest – and to prosper.
And, as the economy gets healthier, we’ll keep reducing tax and costs on businesses – so you can keep on investing and prospering.
The third area we have focused on is helping businesses access funding.
We know that since the 2008 financial crisis, this has been a problem – particularly for SMEs.
The Funding for Lending scheme is providing cheap funding for banks to underpin lending. And we are extending it by one year, to 29 January 2016.
Through the British Business Bank, we’re increasing the supply of finance, creating a more diverse finance market and building confidence in the market.
Its programmes helped over 21,000 business access a total of £1.45bn of new lending and investment in the year ending September 2014.
By 2018, it’s the Bank’s ambition to have unlocked £10 billion of finance to business.
Last month, we announced a £400m extension and expansion of the Bank’s flagship venture capital programme, Enterprise Capital Funds, over the next three years.
We also provided further funding for the Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme, enabling it to guarantee up to £500 million of new lending in 2015 to 2016.
And we’re opening the market for new and challenger banks - helping SMEs gain access to a wider pool of potential lenders.
We’ve set up an appeals process, allowing any business with a turnover of up to £25 million which is declined for a loan to appeal that decision to its bank.
We are legislating to require credit data sharing, and referrals for rejected loans - so challenger banks and alternative finance providers to conduct accurate risk assessments, and so it’s easier for SMEs to seek a loan from another lender.
We also have proposals to match SMEs who want loans with challenger banks and other finance providers who are prepared to provide these loans.
The fourth and final area relates to exports.
We not only export cheese to France but we export chocolate to Mexico, sushi to Japan, mussels to Brussels and sand to Saudi Arabia.
But we can do more.
We’ve almost doubled the number of companies supported by UKTI, from almost 27,000 in 2009-10 to almost 48,000 in 2013/14.
At last Budget we doubled the direct lending facility of UK Export Finance to £3 billion.
We’ve just announced an additional £20 million package of UKTI support in 2015-16 for first time exporters.
We’re massively increasing UKTI’s presence in expanding markets – indeed, just earlier this month I was in Gujurat where we are opening a Deputy High Commission to ensure that we stand to make the most out of India’s ever-growing economy.
All of this allows more and more countries to import more and more goods, all bearing the coveted “Made in Britain” stamp.
These measures – cut red tape, lower taxes, boost access to finance and help companies export – are all part of a wider suite of policies to get Britain back into growth.
It’s an enormous task – covering fiscal consolidation, reforming the financial system, boosting the skills of our workforce, investing in our infrastructure, getting in place the right monetary policies, and improving our productivity.
And given the economic storm clouds gathering globally, getting it right has never been more important.
The latest figures show impressive growth. The UK’s economy grew by 2.6% last year, the fastest pace since 2007, the best pace in the G7.
But we have also been clear that growth is not the be-all and end-all. Growth has to be balanced. You can no longer have regions which are left behind.
Over the last thirty or forty years, I’m afraid that’s what we saw. London forged ahead. Areas like the north-east and the south-west didn’t grow as quickly. The gap widened.
I am not and will never be one of those people who thinks that the way to create greater equality is to punish success, or undermine it.
The way to promote greater prosperity in the regions is to invest in them – to help them flourish – to identify their strengths and to make them stronger still.
Just earlier this week, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor visited Plymouth to launch the long term economic plan for the south-west.
That plan was based on six strands.
First, increase the long-term growth rate of the south-west to at least the expected average growth rate of the whole UK.
Second, to sustain the existing high rate of job creation – which could see 150,000 more people in employment by the end of the decade.
Third, to transform connections, within the south-west as well as to the rest of the country, through a £7.2 billion investment in transport connections, and through completing our programme of digital connectivity.
Fourth, to expand the economic benefits of the significant presence of military and defence in the region.
Fifth, to boost science more broadly – whether in green energy, the rural economy, life sciences or tech clusters.
And sixth, to make the most of the extraordinary tourism potential which you boast.
Combined, this could make the south-west a formidable region.
It would add over £6 billion to the local economy – equivalent to over £1,000 per person.
It would create tremendous local opportunities – which you and your businesses would be ideally placed to benefit from.
And it would of course be a major economic boost to the whole of the UK.
But my experience – both in business and as a constituency MP – is that some of the most game-changing interventions happen at the local level.
It is all about the local junction which is always chock-a-block at rush hour – providing uncertainty for small businesses.
The row of shops on the High Street which have been boarded up for years – putting off developers and investors.
The beach which had its sand washed away in last year’s storms – which means less money from tourists.
I’m a big believer that for those sorts of issues, central government has to work together with local administrators in providing solutions.
In other words: We can provide the money, but it’s for you to spend.
Through the Regional Growth Fund, we have given the south-west £210 million funding, supporting 39 projects, to create 36,000 jobs and generate £700 million private investment.
In the first round of Growth Deals, we awarded Dorset LEP £66.4m from the Local Growth Fund for 2015/16-2020/21. This is expected to leverage at least £530m of additional investment from local partners and the private sector.
This is anticipated to create over 25,000 jobs, and 3,000 homes – and will include key projects such as a new Jurassic Coast visitor centre, access schemes to the Port of Poole, a major renewal of the A338 to Bournemouth April, and new facilities for Bournemouth and Poole College.
And today, I’m delighted to say that we have just announced a further £1bn allocation from the Local Growth Fund across the country – from which Dorset LEP will also benefit.
We’ve given £12 million to improve public transport, cycling and walking facilities on the A35 corridor this year.
And we’ve contributed £1.95 million towards restoring Poole’s beeches following 2014’s storms.
Often this has translated straight into jobs. We gave £9.44 million to bring rural broadband to 71,504 rural premises in Dorset by 2016. And BT Openreach has taken on 200 engineers in Poole since the summer to do just this.
But more often, the effects are indirect.
I could not stand here, hand on heart, and say that it is government action which has given Wyke Print Solutions its biggest contract to date.
Or allowed Think Research Ltd to win the Dorset Export Business Award.
Or helped Permavent Ltd secure your recent excellence in innovation awards.
Or secured KGAL Ltd an £18 million Malaysian contract for sluices for hydro power schemes.
No. Those successes – and many, many more – are due to the hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit of the local businesses here in Weymouth and Portland and the wider region of Dorset.
What we in government can do is create the right atmosphere for you to prosper.
We can invest in our regions to make them fertile territory for growth.
We can demonstrate, on the international stage, how the UK is well and truly open for business.
And we can celebrate our successes.
We can do that – and we are doing that.
Your part of the challenge is twofold.
First of all, tell us what is working, and what more we can do.
You know where I am – and I know that Richard [Drax] will not be shy about relaying your views and requests!
Second, and most importantly, keep up the great work.
Private sector employment, entrepreneurialism and more people in work are exactly what the economy needs in the economic recovery – and that’s what you are delivering.
Thank you once again – and I’d like to wish you every success in all your business endeavours.