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‘Great growth is not a luxury, it’s a necessity’

• BCC Director General, John Longworth will address the business group’s Annual Conference at the QEII Conference Centre,
Westminster at 09.45am on Today
• Keynote speakers include: Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP; Rt Hon Michael Gove MP; Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP; Rt Hon Ed
Balls  MP; Karren Brady; Theo Paphitis and chief executives of a range of UK businesses
• Media can register for a free press pass by contacting the press office Today, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) will hold
its Annual Conference at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster. Addressing businesses, politicians, media  and Chambers
of  Commerce from across the globe, BCC Director General, John Longworth will set out his vision for ‘great  growth’ – and the
need to transform the UK economy from being merely good to being truly great.

The following extracts will feature in British Chambers of Commerce Director General John Longworth’s conference speech later today:

‘GREAT GROWTH’

“It may be obvious to us in this room why ‘great growth’ is so important, but surprisingly there are many people out there who do not get it, do not subscribe to it, and do not think it is the most important thing for the UK.   “The simple fact is that it is only through wealth creation – through sustainable, ‘great growth’ – that we can afford all of the things we want like the green agenda, defence, emergency services, overseas aid, education, a social safety net and the NHS. I have said it before and I cannot repeat it enough – achieving sustainable great, growth should be and must be the number one priority of any government, and our political class needs to be more economically literate and business orientated.

“Great growth is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

“So what are the challenges? Well, there are UK and global, economic and political challenges.

“In the next twelve months or so the UK political landscape will be influenced radically by European elections, then a Scottish referendum and finally a General Election.

EUROPE

“Will the answers to the question of Eurozone sustainability mean a Eurozone  of inter-governmental agreements outside of the EU structures, the creation of a true Central Bank structure, fiscal oversight and all the political and regulatory paraphernalia that will, of necessity, flow from that?   Where will the UK reside in all of this?  There were helpful comments from the German Finance Minister last week, who acknowledged that non-Eurozone countries like the UK would require specific reassurances as the Eurozone integrates further. But will these reassurances amount to anything and, if they do, will they be enough?

“These are much bigger questions, and are much more fundamental to our business community, even than whether we re-negotiate a few regulations – important as these may be for the present.”   “The elephant in the room for any future government is whether or not they commit to holding a referendum.  Looking at the Prime Minister’s priorities for renegotiation published recently, and listening to the Leader of the Opposition’s  speech on European triggers for a referendum, I wonder whether a future government will really grasp this nettle and address what the key issues are.

SCOTLAND

“And then there is that other referendum whose name cannot be spoken among so many in the business community, lest the politicians reap their revenge.  What are the economic and business implications of the choice that Scotland faces in September?   “The small economic union of the United Kingdom is far more intertwined, complex, and interdependent than any relationship that the UK has with the rest of the EU.  We have a common currency, a Central Bank, a common defence structure and command, common constitution, and believe it or not, a common language. These are not things we share with the EU.

“Regardless of how Scotland votes on September 18th, things will never be quite the same again.

A NEW PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT

“Thirty plus years ago, our economy went through a revolution, which probably saved Britain from terminal decline.  Although it was not perfect and was undoubtedly traumatic, it was right at the time.   “I have travelled the globe since then, looking at the way business is done.  The world has changed.  We are now, in Britain, a niche economy in a globalised world, just 3% of global GDP.  That is not a problem per se – it is part of our opportunity as a niche, knowledge and services based economy in a global world.  But our political class have not yet fully recognised and capitalised on this.

“It also strikes me that our most successful competitor countries in global trade have not only restructured their economies, as we did, they have also developed a close partnership, a true partnership, between government and business, and between business and government. This is not a servant / master relationship, a relationship based at the tradesman’s entrance, but a true partnership of equals, working in the national interest.   “In a globalised world, government also has a crucial role in creating the right environment for entrepreneurial success. Partnership between business and government will be crucial for an export-led recovery, if we are to achieve truly great growth.

EDUCATION

“Education, education, education – what a meaningless phrase this proved to be.  But there is no doubt that in the knowledge based economy that is the UK, the soft infrastructure of education is as important, if not more fundamental to economic growth, than the hard infrastructure of roads, airports, digital and railways.

“The schools system must throw up and prepare those individuals who have academic ability, but who do not currently have access to universities, by whatever means, for the sake of the economy.  And if that requires education tailored to ability and aptitude, then the educational establishment need to get over it.   “But it’s not at the pure academic end of the spectrum of our talent pool that we have the greatest problems.  Some educational institutions do a great job linking with employers, but far too many have lost the vocational plot.

“Preparing this next generation for the British workforce is too important to the economy for us to ignore.

TOWARDS THE FUTURE

“We have secured good growth for the time being and George Osborne wants to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’.  Now whether all of this was good design or good luck is immaterial.

“But we can’t rely on luck alone.  We need to invest, to innovate, to export, to build.   We are on a long road to truly great, sustainable economic growth – and there are some twists and turns to navigate up ahead.

“It will be some time yet before Britain can march to the tune of the Great Escape.   “I am certain, however, that Britain has all of the talent, the creativity, the innovation and the latent entrepreneurialism necessary to run the race, to go for the gold.”