Andrea Leadsom addresses businesses at the Institute of Directors
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sets out her vision for how government and business can work together in the future
It does seem you can’t go anywhere these days without stumbling upon yet more examples of brilliant UK creativity.
I learned that ‘Downton Abbey’ was filmed here.
And so from our creative industries to our universities; from offshore wind to outer space the UK does have a huge amount to shout about – and so tonight is a bit of a chance to do just that.
I’m sure you’re all veterans of receptions like these and you’re used to politicians saying we’re at a ‘crossroads’, we’re at a ‘very important point’, now is a ‘profound chance at change’.
But actually I think today of all days we are at a very important crossroads. In just over 50 hours, we will be leaving the European Union, marking the start of a brand new future, where we are free to choose our own path - with the certainty for business that a political majority provides.
Boris Johnson’s government will provide the NHS with the biggest cash injection in its history. It will back our scientists, build better infrastructure, clean up our environment, and so much more under this new government. 2020 will be the year we lay the foundation for that future. But of course as you all know, without business we don’t stand a chance.
I’ve always personally understood the power of business.
When I was a kid my mother and stepdad had a furniture shop and the super-tax on the self-employed was 98%. In frustration, my parents wrote their tax cheque on the side of a wardrobe as their little bit of rebellion against the unfairness and anti-business nature of that government.
Even back then for me as a teenager, the logic was quite clear: when business falters, the UK suffers; when business succeeds, the UK will prosper.
When you thrive, you create more jobs, more opportunities for young people and better lives for families across the UK. You pay more taxes which pay for better public services. And you invest more in new infrastructure which makes life easier.
And today, we’re seeing encouraging signs. This month, as you’ll all know, business confidence surged to a record high.
And as we leave the EU – firms can continue to do business with confidence.
Next week, businesses will be able to trade with EU markets exactly as they do today. And this will continue until the end of the transition period at the end of this year. Then, what should be clear to all - really strong message - is that things will change in January 2021. Firms will need to prepare for these changes, including leaving the EU’s customs union and single market.
And we will provide detail, support and very close collaboration with business as negotiations on our free trade agreement with the EU progress.
Ladies and gentlemen – this government will back business to the hilt. Now and in the future. By this Friday, I will personally have already met over 250 businesses as Secretary of State with all the superb insight, ideas and creativity that has demonstrated to me.
And what I’m hearing from business right now is that you want to look beyond Brexit, to the exciting opportunities of the coming decades.
So this evening, I’d like to do 3 things.
First, I’d like to set out my department’s priorities.
Second, I’d like to put forward a vision of what we can do, and what our new future can be if we all work together.
And then third, I’d like to say a few words on Industrial Strategy.
So let me take each in turn.
On my first day as Business Secretary, I sat down with my ministerial team, who are here – Kwasi Kwarteng, Chris Skidmore, Kelly Tolhurst, Nadhim Zahawi and Ian, Lord Duncan – to discuss our exam question that we gave to ourselves: What do we want BEIS to be famous for?
The answer is the mission we have given ourselves: to build a stronger, greener United Kingdom, and within that we have agreed our 3 departmental priorities: first, that we will lead the world in tackling global climate change; second, that we will solve the Grand Challenges facing our society; and third that we will quite simply make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business.
Now I know these are all things that matter to you too. And since last summer we’ve made strong progress on each one of them.
On climate change, we’ve doubled our International Climate Finance to nearly £12 billion.
We’ve announced our £1 billion Ayrton Fund using the very best of British science and innovation to tackle climate change in developing countries - from replacing diesel generators with battery storage, to making air conditioning units more effective.
And we’ve worked with business to invest in cleaner, greener transport – from electric planes, to freight-carrying drones, and in building electric infrastructure for green cars.
And this is only the beginning. 2020 is just the first year in a new decade of decarbonisation, where we in government will work with business to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050.
As well as prioritising our pathway to net zero, our second key priority in BEIS is in solving the Grand Challenges facing our society. Since I became Business Secretary:
We’ve launched the world’s largest genetics project, which will sequence the genomes of 500,000 volunteers to better diagnose and treat diseases like cancer and dementia.
And we’re aiming to design, develop and build the world’s first commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040 with the potential for clean, carbon-free and virtually unlimited energy.
Our extraordinary researchers, innovators and universities will maintain the UK as a global science superpower.
And we will be even more ambitious. We will set up a UK Advanced Research Projects Agency, giving researchers the freedom to pursue high-risk, high-reward projects.
We will capitalise on our strengths – from driving forward a new National Space Council to building a world-first Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre.
And this will all be underpinned by our commitment to increase our R&D spending across the UK to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
And then our third top priority in BEIS is to make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business.
This government will always back business to the hilt. We will review and reduce business rates. We will finally resolve the scourge of late payments. And we will forge a new trading relationship with the EU – as well as develop free trade agreements with old friends and new partners around the world. We will put in place reforms to keep the UK world-leading in audit, corporate governance and transparency. And our new Employment Bill will make sure work is fairly rewarded.
I want to create a world where ‘flexible working’ is the norm, where we do more to support people as carers and parents and where we can all balance work with the other things that matter in our lives - ultimately, creating happier, more productive employees who can do even more for your business.
So these 3 priorities will enable us to build a stronger, greener United Kingdom, and this brings me to my second point.
Building a stronger, greener United Kingdom
Today, we are on the cusp of a green industrial revolution, with opportunities not just for us here in ‘SW1’ but for everyone – in every postcode and part of our country.
And the industries of the future are already creating new sources of pride and prosperity across our shores.
Just take offshore wind. Today, Hull makes turbine blades for what will soon be the largest offshore wind farm in the world off the Yorkshire Coast; Grimsby leads the world in offshore wind operations and maintenance, while our Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult recently tested the world’s longest offshore wind turbine blade. If you stood it next to parliament, it would be taller than Big Ben! And I’m immensely proud that the UK now has more offshore wind than any other country on earth - a fantastic achievement, and the challenge now is to ramp up and scale up successes like these across the UK.
From creating supply chains for electric vehicles to decarbonising heavy industry. From designing new, green financial products to designing low carbon buildings, the opportunities of this industrial revolution are endless, with the prize of two million green-collar jobs by 2030.
And personally, I have no doubt that we will succeed. Because history shows we have done it before. Just as the UK helped bring the world the steam engine and jet engine so we can already export technologies which will help to decarbonise the world. And I think we could grow a clean tech sector which could be even bigger than our financial services sector today.
I know that businesses in this room are already laying the foundations – and seeing the benefits. Investing in your workforce and in the future-proof skills young people need; backing new ideas putting billions into R&D, and expanding into new markets finding new customers all across the world.
And this brings me to my final point – what can we in government do to help?
In 2017, the Industrial Strategy established by my predecessor gave a comprehensive answer to that question. It’s an excellent document, with fantastic results.
From Sector Deals helping industries speak with one voice, to ambitious Grand Challenge missions, like helping people to enjoy 5 extra years of healthy living, there’s a lot to celebrate about it. I want to build on this great work, through an Industrial Strategy for our regions and for future generations, which levels up opportunity across the UK and leads the world in tackling climate change.
For me, there are opportunities to build on ‘what’ our Industrial Strategy does, ‘where’ it benefits across our UK and ‘who’ it involves.
So let’s start with ‘what’?
One of the 2017 Industrial Strategy’s trump cards was its Grand Challenges – clean growth, future of mobility, Artificial Intelligence and Data, and the Ageing Society. Yet one big change since 2017 is that last year we legislated for net zero by 2050. Making clean growth ‘the’ Grand Challenge of the 2020s – indeed of the century. So I’ve asked my team to look at how we can ‘net zero proof’ every aspect of our Industrial Strategy.
On the question of ‘where?’, Local Industrial Strategies are already making a big difference – and I’m delighted that areas like Humber and the Heart of the South West are making good progress developing their local plans. These are absolutely in line with our desire to ‘level up’ our United Kingdom – but I do think we can go even further. So I’ve asked our officials to look at how else our Industrial Strategy can transform communities across the UK, improving productivity – a really key challenge - and offering new skills and new jobs, whilst reducing our carbon footprint.
And finally, there’s the question of ‘who’? In the past, large firms have been really involved with our Industrial Strategy. That’s fantastic – lots more of that to come. But answering questions like net zero will mean harnessing every ounce of business innovation – through a strategy that also supports our SMEs. So to make our Industrial Strategy more open, I’ve asked my team to look at how we can make our many tens of existing funding streams far less complicated.
So – an Industrial Strategy with more net zero, more resources for our regions, more support for our SMEs – but which makes it less complex to apply for funding, and less of an ordeal to access government support and advice.
So ladies and gentlemen, as we look beyond Brexit, this is the perfect moment for government and business to consider how we can better work together. In government, we absolutely need business by our side. You are the job creators and you’re the problem-solvers; you’re the innovators and investors and today you matter more than ever.
So together – let’s build a stronger, greener United Kingdom.