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Excerpts of the speech by Greg Barker, UK Minister for Business Engagement with India, and Energy and Climate Change at the inauguration of ‘UK and West Bengal in partnership’ seminar.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
I am delighted to be back in Kolkata. This is my third visit to this city in the last two years – the last time I was here was in November last year, with our Prime Minister David Cameron. And it’s good to be back. This is a city with a rich history, culture and heritage. I know from my previous visits that you have an impressive range of dynamic and fast growing businesses here, some with UK links that we want to strengthen and grow.
I know too, from my many conversations with your business and political leaders, about the sheer scale of ambition and optimism in this part of India. Kolkata’s strategic location as a gateway to Eastern and North East India have long made this an essential business hub. More and more, India’s Look East Policy and the opening up of markets in neighbouring countries – in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Burma – is adding a new vibrancy to the business environment here.
There is real opportunity here. The Government of West Bengal has an impressive vision for the development of the state and, I’m proud to say, UK companies are well-placed to help make that vision a reality - whether it’s the state government’s plans for large-scale industrial and transport infrastructure; its ambition to tap into renewable sources of energy; or its determination to up-skill the workforce here so that the extraordinary human potential of West Bengal’s population is fully realised.
So I am delighted to be joined by here this week by a seventeen UK companies – one of the largest British trade delegations to Kolkata in recent times. The companies here have expertise broadly in two areas: Infrastructure and Education, Skills & Training. We are also joined by a few specialists today who would be keen to help any Indian business here to establish a presence in the UK.
Let me say a word about each of these areas.
The UK has real strength in the areas of urban growth, industrialisation and urban renewal, and in waterfront and heritage regeneration. India’s one trillion dollar plan to build new infrastructure creates exciting opportunities for UK infrastructure companies to enter into partnerships with Indian industry. The private sector is playing a vital and growing role in this area of India’s development – I was told that half of India’s infrastructure investments are expected to come from the private sector in the coming years. Public private partnerships in large projects are more and more the norm. Here too British companies have a great track record.
The companies in our delegation have world-class expertise and experience in master planning, engineering and engineering consultancy; in architecture, water projects and in the construction of flyovers and bridges. The UK is a world leader in providing sustainable solutions in the infrastructure sector. For us big infrastructure projects are second nature.
Our construction sector is a prime example:
Our iconic Olympics stadium used less than half the usual amount of steel, not least by using recycled content – including roof support made from old gas pipes.
The Olympic VeloPark also used less steel by being constructed largely from sustainable timber – and has cut water consumption by over three quarters by harvesting rainwater from its dramatic sloping roof.
Bradford University’s new student accommodation won a European prize for minimising its carbon footprint and energy usage, while costing twenty five percent less than a ‘normal’ building.
I’m pleased to say that the infrastructure sector is already seeing some excellent partnerships between West Bengal and the UK. Our urban regeneration specialists have worked closely with the local authorities and the private sector in the regeneration of Kolkata; UK experts advised on the riverfront development a few years ago, and now at the invitation of the state government, UK experts will be involved in redevelopment of the historic Writers’ Building.
Our strong and growing relationship with the city - and the UK’s proven expertise and leadership in creating and regenerating urban infrastructure - explains why the West Bengal administration picked London – out of all the world’s great cities – as the benchmark for Kolkata’s development.
UK vocational skills and training providers have over a hundred years of experience in delivering world class skills to people around the globe. The UK has the capacity to deliver at scale – delivering skills to over 3 million learners a year in the UK alone and to countless more in the one hundred countries in which UK providers are working.
Developing a more skilled workforce is critical to India’s future development, a fact well understood by the Union and State Governments. I’m proud that India is already host to many of the UK’s most experienced and innovative skill development providers. They are providing policy development advice, technical assistance, capacity development, curriculum and content development; train the trainer programs, evaluation and certification. There is the potential for them to do much more and I’m delighted that some of the companies here today are determined to do just that.
Climate Change & Energy
Now as well as being the UK Minister for Business Engagement with India, I am also the Minister for Climate Change and Energy. The UK Government recognises climate change as a fundamental threat to global prosperity and security. Tackling climate change is an economic as well as an environmental imperative. We have focussed a good part of our work on low carbon economic development in recent years, with an equal emphasis on “development” and “low carbon”.
I’m delighted that Climate Change is a vital theme of my government’s partnership with the Government of West Bengal. Together we have been working on a number of initiatives to facilitate development of low carbon and climate-resilient policies of the State. These policies make an important contribution to the development of this state and, I am certain, that they create opportunity for the economic and commercial future of West Bengal. Let me highlight a few:
- We have worked together on a project to put in place fiscal instruments for low carbon development. The project aims to introduce incentives to improve energy consumption in sectors such as power, industry, buildings, and waste. The project is the first of its kind in India in designing fiscal measures, incentives and taxation schemes and in re-examining current industrial policies through the climate change lens.
- We have worked together to enable the adoption of low carbon energy efficient LED technology in street lighting.
- We have worked together to develop a Renewable Energy Policy for West Bengal in an effort to facilitate investments in renewable energy projects. UK teams are now working on potential collaboration with the State Department of Power on harnessing renewable energy in West Bengal.
On my last visit, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and Kolkata Municipal Corporation to collaborate in the development of a sustainable, low carbon, and climate change resilient Kolkata, as part of the Corporation’s 2020 Vision strategy for the city. I am happy to mention that later today I am going to announce the plans of action for the implementation and the financial support that the UK Government will provide for the project through the Department for International Development.
Let me say a brief word about my own country. Many of you have plans to grow your business globally. I am a simple message for you: Come to Britain and you’ll find a warm welcome. We’ve one of the most business friendly environments in the world. We have the lowest level of Corporation Tax in the G7, and a vibrant business culture and environment that supports innovation and entrepreneurship. As well as the considerable opportunities in the UK market, the UK also offers the perfect gateway to EU markets and is a springboard to build your European business.
That’s why the UK has secured more Indian investment than the rest of the European Union combined. An important part of that investment comes from this region of India but there can – and should – be much more. I am meeting a number of investors from Kolkata tomorrow, who are running successful operations in the UK to discuss with them their plans for expansion. I am sure some of you will join them soon. Our teams from UK Trade & Investment would be only too happy to discuss your plans with you.
India-UK: Role in Flourishing Business Relationship
The relationship between India and Britain is flourishing. We are looking at doubling trade by 2015. And investment both ways is growing too. UK companies such as BP and Vodafone have made large investments in India. The UK is now the third largest investor in India and India is now the 5th largest investor in the UK.
In recognition of the need to put even more effort into driving forward these developments, the Prime Minister gave me a further important role in government aside my energy and climate change portfolio - ‘Minister for Business Engagement with India’ – the first, and only, Minister of this sort designated to any country, in the British Government. This is a reflection of the huge importance the British Government places on the business relationship with India. I think we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the potential of this relationship and I am determined to drive forward UK/India business cooperation.
I know the West Bengal government have always been supportive and positive of the growing relationships between West Bengal and the UK. And the dynamic private sector of West Bengal has always been keen and ready to engage and collaborate on projects.
Let’s not limit ourselves to infrastructure or the education, skills and training or energy sectors, whether it is healthcare, food and drinks, engineering or ICT, the UK companies are keen to work with you. UK Trade & Investment team are extremely keen to help you find partners in the UK to develop your business further, and help you set up business presence in the UK.
As you will find from the branding around this room, we are celebrating that Britain is GREAT. While we are proud to say that Britain is GREAT. We in Britain are also clear that India is GREAT too. While both our countries are GREAT, together we are greater still. That’s why the British government aims to build a stronger partnership between India and the UK. I am sure that frequent interactions such as this morning business seminar will not sustain the positive momentum that we have built over the years but will also help to secure a closer engagement in many areas and celebrate even more successes in the coming months and years.