Foreign Secretary William Hague gave a speech to business leaders at the City Week Conference on Monday 20 September.
I am delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to address such a prestigious gathering of business leaders from around the globe in this fine, historic setting, the home of the Honourable Artillery Company. Set up by Henry VIII 473 years ago, it was originally intended, according to its Charter of Incorporation, to further “the Defence of this our Realm and the maintenance of the Science and Feat of shooting Long Bows, Cross Bows and Hand Guns”. But it is about a very different sort of British science and excellence that I want to talk to you tonight.
Before I do, I should forewarn you that the Honourable Artillery Company is also one of only a few regiments that have the right to bear arms in London by Royal Charter, enjoying the privilege of marching through the City of London with drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed. If you encounter any such martial display while you are here I can assure you that you are not under attack, they are simply enjoying themselves.
We are delighted that the first City Week conference has come so early on in the tenure of our new British government. It is the first event of its kind in the UK, one that we hope will become a permanent feature. I know that it has been long in the making and congratulate its organisers for laying on such a splendid three-day programme. We are very grateful to Scottish Development International for co-hosting tonight’s event, and to you all for attending in such force from around the world.
The business talent on display here reflects the full excellence of the City of London and the UK financial and professional services industry. I also believe it demonstrates, to anyone looking to invest in the UK, that we have what you need to help your business grow over the long term.
The message you heard from my colleague Mark Hoban this morning as he opened the conference, and that you will hear from me and from my Ministerial colleagues time and again, is that the UK economy is open for business and determined to go from strength to strength. Despite the impact of the financial crisis on the world economy, London remains the leading financial centre in the world and the best place to locate financial services business.
We enjoy this leading position not only because of the achievements of the past, but because of the rich attributes for future success that are showcased at this conference: our unrivalled financial services industry, our strong skills base, our global outlook and orientation, our creative talents, our world class universities and the strong veins of history and commerce that connect Britain’s economy with strategically vital parts of the world, including the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the United States.
Our global trading heritage means that we believe in an open economy and recognise the huge benefits of foreign investment into our economy. Our central position between Asian and American time zones means we are ideally located as a hub for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, able to work around the clock. And our business environment and open legal system both support investment, talent creation and innovation.
The facts speak for themselves: the City of London handles 34% of the world’s foreign exchange trade; 22% of global foreign equity trading; 43% of the world’s “over the counter” derivatives trade; 70% of all Eurobonds and 95% of the world trade in non-ferrous metals. The UK is the leading western centre for Islamic finance, with six fully Sharia compliant firms and 20 banks supplying Islamic financial services. 75% of the Fortune 500 companies have London offices, 250 foreign banks in London, and 618 foreign companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
So we are a natural home for international business. But we do not intend to rest on our laurels for a single moment.
We are determined to champion the British economy. That is why we made it our absolute priority as a new government to get a determined grip on our nation’s finances, and will use our clear mandate for the next five years to foster a British economy based on investment, saving, sound finances and exports. As the Prime Minister said recently, we intend to make sure that Britain earns its way in the world once more, and have launched a new drive to make Britain a magnet for investment and to advance British commercial interests internationally.
Our ambition for the next five years is to make Britain one of the most competitive business environments anywhere in the developed world, the best place in Europe to set up and run and a business, and home to the most competitive corporate tax system in the G20. This will make a demonstrable difference to the British economy and will create new opportunities for our partners overseas as well as for our own British-based business.
As well as backing UK business, we will take your potential role as investors extremely seriously. We welcome and value the contribution of many of you here in this room who are part of our success already, or who are considering being part of it in the future.
But we will not sit at home and wait for you to come to us. We know that the networked world of the 21st century presents huge opportunities, for a country determined to seize them, in the Gulf, North Africa, Latin America and Asia. We intend to make Britain’s foreign policy more agile and more innovative in order to back British business in those markets and to attract investment into the UK.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office I lead will place a greater emphasis on supporting business and commercial diplomacy internationally. We have already taken strides to elevate our links with many of the countries represented in this room and want to do this across the board, in diplomacy, commerce, health, science and even defence. We know that all too often government can lag behind in recognising change, or in supporting business where it wants to go and applying diplomacy where it is needed to unlock barriers to investment. We are determined to change this.
We have created a new team to lead cross-Government work on the emerging powers and will develop action plans for those countries with the highest potential for UK business. We are channelling more FCO officials into work on trade policy and in support of the British economy. We have set challenging targets for Ambassadors and High Commissioners for inward investment into the UK, and our Embassies will be more focussed going forward on working to achieve demonstrable benefits for British business and the British economy.
The Prime Minister, Chancellor and I all see this as requiring a change in the mentality across the whole of Whitehall, not just the Foreign Office. We know that domestic departments have a role to play in selling Britain and helping to open up the way to others seeking to invest in our economy.
As early indicators of this approach the Prime Minister has led a business delegation to India to begin this work, the Business Secretary has visited Brazil, we have set up a taskforce with the United Arab Emirates as well as a wider Gulf Initiative, and we are engaged in intensified economic and strategic dialogues with China.
So if you haven’t heard from us yet, you will do so soon. We are serious and ambitious about our business engagement with the rest of the world and about enabling business to thrive in the UK. We know that this is where the future lies.
So I wish you every success at this conference as you examine what is on offer here in Britain, hear more about what investing in Britain could do for your business, and I hope to see you again in the future and at the next City Week Conference.