Iain Duncan Smith: Enterprise vital as Britain gets back to work

THIS evening I will be helping to celebrate the huge contribution local businesses have made to the region at The Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards.

From the best innovations to the best entrepreneurs, the best employers, exporters, and manufacturers – all of those nominated for an award exemplify the enterprising and inventive spirit that makes Yorkshire great.

Successful businesses are the lifeblood of any area – they help give it its identity, they bring investment, and they help to define its character. But perhaps most importantly, they give people jobs, and the financial security of a regular wage which comes with that.

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The transformative benefits of having a job should never be under-estimated. That is why in all the welfare changes the Government is making, my purpose has been to get Britain working. And in doing so, transforming the lives of those locked out of the labour market for too long and ensuring this is an economic recovery for all.

Our employment revolution has been life-changing for so many people. People once trapped on benefits able to provide for themselves and their families and lift themselves out of poverty. Children are inspired by seeing their parents, older siblings – even their neighbours – going to work. And the local area benefits as well, because when people are working, they are paying their taxes, buying local goods, and using local services.

That is why it is so encouraging to see that private sector employment is up by 104,000 since 2010 in the Yorkshire and Humber region. This shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan to create jobs by backing businesses is working.

Creating jobs is central to building a stronger, more resilient economy. We know families are still feeling the impact of the recent recession, but the only way to increase living standards sustainably is to keep growing the economy and creating jobs. We want to grow the economy in a balanced way, across all regions and a range of industries, enabling Britain’s cities and communities to become engines of growth.

And we are already seeing the benefits of this across Yorkshire where there are now 46,000 fewer unemployed people than there were this time last year.

We are also helping to create the employers of the future by helping budding entrepreneurs become their own boss. Thanks to the New Enterprise Allowance, over 6,500 businesses have been set up in Yorkshire and the Humber in a scheme which gives people on benefits the mentoring and help with finances they need.

Helping people to get the skills and experience they need – and that employers are looking for – is vital for a growing jobs market. That’s why we hugely increased the amount of work experience placements and apprenticeships available. So far over 25,000 people in the area have had a work experience placement through Jobcentre Plus and nearly 13,000 have done employer-led training. Over the past year, the number of people in the area participating in apprenticeships has also increased by nearly five per cent to over 103,800.

So we are helping people to get on the career ladder and helping businesses by providing the workforce they need. And this is all underpinned by welfare reform which is restoring fairness and making work pay.

Yes, wage growth is still an issue, and one which our critics frequently use to talk down this Government’s record on backing businesses to create jobs. But it is important to reflect on the scale of the challenge we faced when we entered Government: the worst recession in living memory – the economy in potential ruin. In that recession people lost their jobs and salaries fell. When you consider the scale of the challenge you see that, thankfully, we have travelled a long way since then.

We have also taken action to help hardworking people be more financially secure by increasing the tax-free personal allowance – in Yorkshire and Humber 266,000 people have been taken out of income tax.

Britain is now the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world. We have a record number of people in work, increasing at a rate higher than any other G7 economy. .

But the job is not yet done. As the Prime Minister has said, there is still more to do in bringing our great Northern cities together – creating an economic powerhouse to rival any global city.

So we will continue to help businesses grow and create jobs, giving even more people the security that comes with a regular wage. And I would like to thank British business big and small across the UK, and especially those businesses being celebrated tonight, for the vital part that they have played in turning our economy around.

• Iain Duncan Smith is the Work and Pensions Secretary. He is the keynote speaker at The Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards tonight.