It is great to be back here 14 months after I opened this extraordinary factory. It is a real pleasure to be here and it is a particular pleasure to be here on a day when you are signing this deal with AirAsia to provide wings for another hundred Airbus planes.
Tony (Fernandes) is a massive investor into the UK, as we all know; he said that actually if I can sort out for QPR to beat Fulham on Saturday he might even order a few more - I can’t do miracles, I’m afraid, but I’ll do my best, I will be thinking positively!
But I think today is important and it fits, really, with a number of things that we have been talking about. First is that there is a massive change taking place in our world; we see the rise of these great new economies in the South and East of our world. The rise not just of China and India, but Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil; we are seeing real changes in our world and we need to adapt to that. And that is exactly what you are doing here at Airbus by actually manufacturing, exporting and selling airplanes to these great new rising companies and rising powers.
And it also fits with a second thing I have been talking about, which is that, in order to recover properly from the shocks that our economy had with the banking crisis, we need to be really frank that in Britain we need a rebalanced economy. We need to be making more things, we need to be manufacturing more things, we need to be exporting and selling around the world much more, and in order to do that I think we have all got responsibilities. Business has got responsibilities to invest in its plants and its workforce, but government has got responsibility too, to try and do everything we can to help this process of reindustrialisation.
So that means backing apprenticeships, it means keeping tax rates on businesses low, it means investing in the skills and technologies of the future, and it means working closely with areas like aerospace where we can be a world leader. Britain is number two in the world for aerospace, we are number one in Europe, and I want to make sure it stays that way.
So I hope you saw in the Autumn Statement, this year you saw another cut in corporation tax to make sure that businesses want to locate here, you saw a massive increase in capital allowances so that businesses, particularly small businesses, hopefully including some of your suppliers, feel that they can go ahead with the investment that they need. You saw continued commitment to the apprenticeship programme and you are an exemplar here at Airbus in terms of the number of apprenticeships that you take on and train every year.
So I am really pleased to be here, I am delighted you have won this fantastic deal, this fantastic order that I hope will keep Broughton busy long into the future. I commit to continue working with Airbus in all the ways that I can to make sure we continue to grow and continue to export and manufacture here in the UK.
And that was all I wanted to say to start with because really this is about your questions and my answers. Feel free to ask questions about anything you like, the Autumn Statement, the aerospace industry, what do I think about the European Union where I’m off to next. I’ve got a lovely 24 hours with all my European colleagues to discuss the future of our continent.
Something that has touched me and family at the moment, very recently, is I didn’t realise how difficult it is to get a visa to come to this country for a legitimate holiday. It can’t be good for the airline industry, it can’t be good for the tourist pound and, more importantly, it has upset me no end…
What are we going to do about it? It’s a very good question. We are trying to meet two different objectives at the same time. First of all, Britain is one of the most open economies anywhere in the world, and when I go round the world selling Britain to the Indians, the Chinese, the Russians, the Turks, one of the ways we sell Britain is by saying, ‘This is a really great country to come and work in, to come and visit, to come and invest in, and this is one of the easiest countries, actually, to set up a new business, to buy property, to float a business on the stock market.’ That is a key selling point for Britain and we have got to keep that up and that is one of the reasons why we need to stay in the European Union and the single market, because it gives us access to this amazing market.
But, at the same time, I think we do need to have a proper and rigorous control of immigration. And actually, over the last ten years, net migration into the UK - the difference in the number of people leaving and the number of people coming - net migration was about 200,000 a year, so that is two million across a decade. That is a big increase in the population and I don’t think immigration was well controlled.
So we do need to have proper controls. Now, that shouldn’t affect people coming for a visa to come on a holiday and I am working pretty intensively with the Foreign Office to make sure that our visa - and the Home Office - to make sure our visa speeds actually get faster, that people can get a visa quickly and effectively to come to Britain.
But we do need to put in controls in other places, and I will just give you one fact and figure which I think is quite interesting. When we came to office we found that there were a whole lot of colleges that had been set up that weren’t really educating people at all, they were just a means for people to come from other countries to come and work in Britain. They were bogus colleges running bogus courses for, really, bogus students. And we have shut 180 bogus colleges, but the number of students actually coming to Britain, coming to study in our universities, has actually gone up slightly.
So I think we have got the right approach; we want the brightest and the best to come here, to come here and study, and they will form a connection and hopefully a love of this country, but we have got to control immigration at the same time. I think we are getting the balance right, but clearly on your visas and holiday visas we can do a bit better.
We are here, obviously, on a good occasion to celebrate the continued success of Airbus, but my concern is the less able members of our society. Just down the road, 15-20 minutes, is one of the Remploy factories at Wrexham, and the government has thrown thousands of less able members of our society onto the scrapheap. And statistics prove that those are very unlikely to get another job; less than a handful, in fact, of those already laid off earlier in the year are actually working, and that is going to continue, obviously. And rather than a cost-cutting exercise, we are actually increasing the cost for those people. I know there is some subsidy that has been required in the factories, but why not continue that subsidy, keep them going, keep them gainfully employed rather than putting them onto benefits which will then increase their problems and add to their lack of self-esteem?
That is a very good question. I looked at this quite carefully because the decision we have made is actually not a cost-cutting decision; we asked some of the leading experts in disability rights to look at the Remploy factories and the Remploy subsidy and to work out what we should do for the future. And they advised us that actually what we ought to be doing is helping people individually who are disabled to find work, rather than continuing with the current regime.
We are still going to be spending hundreds of millions of pounds on helping disabled people into work, but the advice we had from the experts themselves said that the Remploy subsidy being the only way of doing it was not the right approach. So, it is early days; some of the people from those factories have found work, but I am very much committed to make sure we go on working with those who haven’t found the work yet to help get them into the workforce.
And I think, if you think about life generally, we shouldn’t really be looking at segregated factories, what we ought to be doing more and more is trying to include people who are disabled into workforces all over the country, wherever they want to work. Now, that means challenges for businesses, challenges for government, but actually our whole attitude to disability rightly has changed over recent years and we are far more, I think, open and understanding that there is more that can be done to integrate disabled people into workforces where most people are able-bodied.
That is a challenge for the government, it is also a challenge for companies too, and I think we need companies to ask themselves, ‘What are we doing to try and help employ disabled people?’ And I think in our country, we saw in the Paralympic games just what a massive change towards disability there has been in Britain, and we need that to be all over the country in companies too.
On the topic of becoming more competitive with India and China you recently said that England and, well, Britain, should be more like Germany in terms of its industry. What exactly - what did you mean by that? What aspects of German industry do you admire?
Well, where do we start? I don’t want to go overboard in my praise for Germany when I am just about to be spending hours haggling with Angela Merkel about various things, but I think there is a lot to learn from Germany. I think there is a lot to learn from their education system where they have given a real priority to proper vocational alternatives to academic pathways.
I think there is a lot to learn from the relationship between government and business where, I think, government has thought about its important relationship with certain strategic sectors. And you can see we are doing that now in Britain; a proper relationship with the aerospace sector; on Monday I was up at Cambridge making sure we have a special relationship with the life sciences and pharmaceutical sectors.
I think also the German attitude to work and to saving is relatively healthy. I think you could argue over the last ten years Britain spent too much time borrowing and spending for today rather than investing for tomorrow. If you like, we spent too much time on a Greek path, whereas we should have been spending more time on a German path. So I think there is a huge amount to learn.
That doesn’t mean that Germany is perfect. I think there are some areas where Britain has some advantages. I think we are probably an easier economy to invest in, I think we are more open to people from overseas coming in and buying our businesses and investing in them, I think we have got a very strong financial services sector, which should be there to serve industry.
So we have got some advantages. We are slightly less keen on the red tape than Germany can be. So what I want to do is take the best of Germany - that vocational education, backing strategic sectors, thinking for the long term - take the best of Germany, meld that with the best of Britain and then we will have a world-beating economy.
I am an optimist; in this global race that we are in where you are going to see the rise of the Indonesias, the Malaysias and the Chinas and the Indias, I don’t think it is written that Britain has to be an also-ran. I think we have got a great deal going for us in this country; we have got businesses like the one we are standing in today, we have got some of the best universities in the world, we have got a highly trained, skilled workforce, we are connected all over the world in terms of our trade and investment, we have got the big advantage of our financial markets as well. If you take all those things and get some of the things right that we previously got wrong, then I think we can take on the world and win. But vocational education is, I think, a big part of it.
You are obviously standing in a Franco-German owned factory to some extent, albeit built in Britain. What guarantees do you have from Germany and France that wing manufacturing will stay in the UK? That after the BAE merger, with France taking 12% stake in Airbus, that the future of this plant is secure and the percentage of work that the UK gets out of Airbus is going to remain the same ?
First of all this is a company, yes, of course it has got French and German shareholders, it also has other shareholders and I think increasingly this is becoming more and more of an open and commercial company driven by open and commercial decisions. And, given the incredible performance of the workforce here at Broughton, given the great performance of the workforce outside Bristol, I don’t see any reason why we should see a downgrading of what is done here in the UK.
Whenever I’ve talked with the company they have been very bullish - I’m looking at them now - they have been very bullish about the performance of the UK, the role that we play, but I want to do everything we can to help secure that. So the government has its Aerospace Partnership which we are talking to Airbus and others about; as I said, we are number two in the world, number one in Europe for aerospace so there is more we can do there.
Over the issue of a potential merger between BAE Systems and EADS, Britain was very positively engaged. We weren’t the ones setting up too many hurdles or barriers. We’re saying, ‘Look, if this makes sense for the businesses, if this means more investment, hopefully more investment in the UK, if this is going to help build a European player that can help - that can take on the rest of the world, we’re very positive.’ And I think the company, both BAE Systems and EADS, were very appreciative of the positive way the British government engaged in that argument.
Now, the merger hasn’t gone ahead. It hasn’t happened. But I think that was a sign of just how positive, engaged and committed the UK government is to this company, is to this industry, and is to making sure we get its future right… And obviously, I do my bit, travelling around the world, trying to sell your aeroplanes. I said, I’m an unpaid member of yours sales force, and very happy to keep it that way.
How are you? Do you think introducing a minimum price per unit of alcohol will actually reach its desired effect?
Minimum unit price for alcohol, what is the thinking behind this? The thinking is actually pretty simple. I don’t want to put up the price of an average pint of beer in a pub. I don’t want to put up the price of a typical bottle of wine in a supermarket. I don’t want to add to families’ bills and I don’t believe this measure would at all. This measure is about dealing with a specific problem, which is - we all know - on Friday nights and Saturday nights in some of our towns, it can get a little bit like the Wild West. All the advice I have is that it’s not actually necessarily about people going to pubs and clubs and drinking too much. What it is, is about people pre-loading on very, very cheap, heavily discounted drink from some supermarkets. And, you may not believe me when I say this, but I promise it’s true, there are some supermarkets that discount tins of high-strength lager down to, you know, 25-30p.
So, what the minimum unit price is aiming to deal with is just to stop that very, very deep and aggressive discounting which leads to problems on a Friday and Saturday night. But if you look at a minimum price of alcohol of 45p a unit, that would not affect the pint in the pub, that would not affect the bottle of wine from the supermarket. It would not affect the typical family’s budget.
In fact, and this is the one where I am really going to ask you to stretch your imagination, there is some evidence, pretty good evidence, that what some supermarkets are doing is actually pushing up the price of food, in order to heavily pay for the very discounted, very cheap alcohol. So, a family with a reasonable drinking habit - and I put myself in that category - a reasonable drinking habit might find they’re actually subsidising the binge drinker because of the way the pricing’s working.
So, minimum unit pricing is not to hit family budgets. It’s not nanny state. It’s simply saying, we’ve got a problem with deep discounting, let’s deal with it in that way. And that’s why it’s actually backed by a lot of pubs. It’s backed by some supermarkets. And also, people think there will be some health benefits as well.
What do you, what do you think sir?
It’s not just alcohol related, is it?
Of course it’s not just - he was saying it’s not just alcohol related. Of course it isn’t. Look, there is no magic wand to dealing with disorder problems on a Friday and a Saturday night, and also there’s no magic wand for dealing with health problems, but I think for the first time, you can see a justification for a minimum unit price of alcohol that, as I say, would be backed by the pubs, backed by supermarkets, wouldn’t really affect family budgets, but would deal with this problem of very aggressive deep discounting and some binge drinking. So, I hope I wouldn’t be putting up the price of your pint.
I’m just wondering why the UK government is taking such a weak stance on the crippling effect of bovine TB on the UK dairy industry.
Yes. Well, I think it’s a really good question. I don’t think we are taking a weak stance. I think that compared with years of no decision-making, I think this government is taking quite a bold stance, which is to say that it is necessary to have a badger culling programme. And that does not make you popular in most parts of the country, but I profoundly believe it is the right approach. And I don’t want to blind you with figures, but just think of these two figures. Last year, 26,000 cattle had to be slaughtered because they had TB. The cost, if we do nothing, if we do absolutely nothing, just sit there like the last government and do nothing about it, the cost to the taxpayer could be up to £1 billion over the next ten years.
So, I think this is a massive problem. It is breaking not just farmers’ budgets, it’s breaking farmers’ hearts because they are having to destroy cattle who otherwise would be perfectly healthy. I don’t think we’re taking a feeble approach because we’ve said we will go ahead with badger culls in the two pilot areas. We couldn’t do that this year, because the people running those culls, the National Farmers Union, said they couldn’t get them done in time before winter set in, but next year they will go ahead.
It will not be popular. You will find a lot of people who, like Brian May, making a huge fuss about it. But my argument would be that this is not just right for our farmers, not just right for our cattle but actually, I want healthy cattle and healthy badgers. And we need to address the problem of the TB in badgers, as well as the TB in cattle. So, a tough, robust approach, which I think is right for farmers but right for our country too.
With the cap on tuition fees now being removed, there are obviously more people looking for alternatives to higher education, so I believe there will be more competition for apprenticeships like this one. What are the government’s plans - if any - to support the apprenticeship programmes already in place like this one or even help companies provide new ones?
Very good. Good question, sir. On the - there’s a link really between both the points you make: the apprenticeships and the universities. First of all, we are putting more money into apprenticeships. We’ve seen something like a million apprenticeship starts over the last two and a half years. I think that’s a basic doubling of the scale of the programme. So, I’m convinced that we’re putting in money. We’re working with business. We’re saying to businesses like Airbus, ‘If you want to design the apprenticeship programme even more yourself, and run it yourself, in order to make it simpler, make it easier, we’re happy for you to do that.’
But I think the link with university education is this: we all know if you’re going to succeed in this global race, we need good universities. We need universities with well-paid resources, well-stocked libraries, and all the rest of it. That costs money. And in the end, if we’re frank about it, there’s only two places the money can come from. It can come from the taxpayer or it can come from the student themselves. If it comes from the taxpayer, we all know that we’ve got this massive deficit. We’re having to make cuts. We’re having to make efficiencies. If we took the money from the taxpayer, it would have to queue up behind the pensions, the health service, the schools and everything else. We wouldn’t fund our universities properly, and we would suffer as a country.
So, what we’re doing instead, is we’re saying to people who go to university that once you leave, and once you’re being paid £21,000, you have to start paying back the cost of your education. But you pay nothing until you’re earning £21,000 and you don’t start paying back the full amount until you’re actually earning £35,000.
So, I think this is a system that is fair. It’s not saying to all students, you have to pay. It’s saying to successful graduates in well - reasonably well-paid salaries, you are going to have to pay back. But all the evidence is there’s still an advantage from having a university education, and that’s why the numbers have come down a little bit this year, but not significantly and crucially not significantly amongst people from lower income backgrounds, who get quite a lot of bursary support.
So, I think we’ve taken the right step but what I’ve been interested, wandering around talking to some of you, is how many people started off by going to university and then thought, ‘This is not maybe the right path for me,’ and then opted to do an apprenticeship here. An apprenticeship, by the way, in many cases will lead to you having a degree. And I think we need to rewind a bit - it goes back to the Germany question - and ask: do we give enough information to young people in school about what the options are? Because I think everybody knows there’s the option that you do your GCSEs, you do your A-Levels, you fill in your UCAS, you go to university. Do we explain what is really available in terms of excellent apprenticeships, technical education, leading to a university degree?
I was very struck at Rolls Royce the other day. Half the people on the board at Rolls Royce were apprentices. And so we should get away from this idea that university is sort of top rate and apprenticeship is somehow less than that. It absolutely isn’t. So we need to explain to young people when at school what the options are, what the pathways are. And we may find more people will choose an apprenticeship because that’s another way to get your degree, earning while you’re learning. So, I think the two are connected, but I’m afraid we do have to have these fees in place so that we can afford universities that can take on the rest of the world.
What is your current stance on same-sex marriage and when would you like it to be put in place by?
Right, same-sex marriage. My stance is I’m in favour of it. I think marriage is a great institution. I think it’s a really good moment when you commit yourself to someone else, and you say, ‘It’s not just about me anymore, it’s about us and what we’re going to do together.’ I’m in favour of marriage and I think just because people are gay, doesn’t mean they should be excluded from it. So, my view is that we should change the law and we should say that same-sex couples can get married. And my view is that we should introduce this new law in Parliament next year, and I’d like to try and get the whole thing sorted out in the first six or seven months of next year.
It’s a vote in Parliament. It’s a free vote. So, people in my party who don’t agree, and there are a number of them, who want to vote against it, they’re free to vote against it. People in the Labour Party or Liberal Democrat Party are also having free votes. It’s a conscience issue, if you like. But I think it’s time to say, marriage is great and being gay shouldn’t be a bar to being married.
I know the churches want to have some protections. And I think that’s absolutely fair enough. We shouldn’t force any church that doesn’t want to hold a gay marriage to do so. So, we put in place a lot of protections so that if churches want to go ahead and do gay marriages, they can, but they’re absolutely protected if they don’t want to. Above all, this is about what happens in the registry office, not what happens in church. And it’s really saying, if you’re going to get - have a civil marriage, you can have a civil marriage as a heterosexual couple or a civil marriage as a gay couple.
I think it’s time to make that change, but there’s going to be a big national debate. There’ll be a big vote. But I hope that it will go through and we’ll be able to say we’re a very equal, very fair country and we don’t discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexuality. Just as, if you’re gay, you fight and die for your country, you can serve your country, I think marriage is great, and you should be able to get married. That’s my view, but we can express our opinions.
Thank you. I know this has kind of got a lot of attention in the media but what’s your stance on the Australian phone call prank?
Oh, it’s a tragic case. It’s just an awful case where this woman clearly worked incredibly hard. She worked in the health service. She was now working for the King Edward Hospital in London. Dedicated to looking after her patients, and the effect of this call - obviously, who knows what exactly would have been going through her mind - but has ended in this absolute tragedy and a tragedy for her family. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned, but I think it’s dangerous in all these things - and maybe particularly dangerous for politicians - to suddenly make up your mind that it was this cause or that cause, so I think we really have to look carefully at what happened.
I suppose the overall thing is, just - we always have to think in life, what are my responsibilities? What are the consequences of my actions? Am I treating people fairly and reasonably? And I think, we have to ask our media always to think about the effect of what they do on others, but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions until we really know exactly what happened. But it’s a very, very tragic case.
Can I thank you all for the questions? Can I thank you for the welcome today? I really am delighted with what has happened at Airbus today with this great deal with Air Asia. Thank you very much Tony for the business you are putting through our country, for this growth in our manufacture and export. This is absolutely what we need to be doing more of in Britain.
As I’ve said, I think actually, we have a lot going for us in our country. I know it’s been a difficult time: paying down the deficit; dealing with our banking problems; you know, competing in a world where the eurozone - and I’m about to head off to Europe - has been something of a drag on the European economy. But it’s great to be at a business here which is investing, which is growing and which is clearly winning on the basis of the brilliance of its design, its technology but above all the brilliance of its workforce. So thank you very much and give yourselves a very big round of applause.