Nick Clegg: Back from the brink to a secure future

When the Liberal Democrats took the decision to step up to the plate and enter government in May 2010, Britain’s economy was on the brink.

It may not feel like it now but we could have been Greece. In 2010, their deficit was 11 per cent of GDP, ours was 10 per cent.

Britain desperately needed stability and the Liberal Democrats provided that by forming the only Government capable of delivering it: a strong, stable coalition government.

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Since then we have led an extraordinary success story. We now have one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world.

We have more people in work than ever before. We have more women in work than ever before. A record two million people have started apprenticeships.

Unemployment, and youth unemployment in particular, is falling and shows every sign of continuing 
to do so.

And all this in the wake of the biggest shock to our economy in generations, while uncertainty and instability has gripped our biggest export market – the Eurozone.

If this Parliament was about rescue, the next must be about renewal, about rewiring our economy so that it can flourish in the 21st century.
 And as we do, we can raise our sights and begin to think big about what Britain can become.

We believe that we can leapfrog France and Germany to become the biggest economy in Europe within a generation. That is hugely ambitious but absolutely possible.

To do it we need two things: to secure the recovery; and to put in place an ambitious long-term strategy that harnesses and encourages the skills and dynamism of British workers and British businesses.

We knew that as we rebuilt the economy we had to do more than simply return to business as usual. We knew we had to rebalance our economy, away from its over-reliance on the financial sector in the City of London and towards growth across the whole United Kingdom.

We knew we needed a real long-term strategy to boost British industry and put hi-tech manufacturing and cutting edge green technologies at the heart of a new economy.

And we knew we had to invest in the skills of a new generation of talented and enthusiastic British workers. That is exactly what we have done.

Through the Regional Growth Fund, City Deals and Local Growth Deals we have put our money where our mouth is and helped to kick start businesses and growth all across the country.

Through Vince Cable’s industrial strategy, a Liberal Democrat Business Secretary has created a truly long-term approach to building a modern, open and liberal economy, supporting key sectors where British innovation can lead the world and putting Britain’s manufacturing industry on the path to where it belongs – at the heart of our economy.

Through the Business Bank and the Green Investment Bank, we are supporting Britain’s small and medium-sized businesses and the clean, green technologies that we can lead the world in.
 And by helping businesses to create more than two million apprenticeships we are helping to train the workforce of the future.

Now we need to secure the recovery, finishing the job of deficit reduction, in full and on time, but doing so fairly.

That means a stable, centre-ground approach that balances the books and, once the deficit is cleared, allows us to start to bring down the national debt and invest again in our world-class public services.

A Labour majority government would borrow billions more and put our stability and our recovery at risk.

And the Conservatives, despite claiming they will “stick to the plan”, are actually proposing to veer away sharply from it.

They propose huge cuts to public spending, far beyond what is needed to balance the books, not because they are necessary but because they see an ideological opportunity to shrink the state.

The last thing Britain needs is the shock of a lurch to the left or right.

What Britain needs right now, what business need right now, is stability.

We must not take that for granted. Without stability we cannot plan for 
the future.

Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Sheffield Hallam. This is an edited version of a speech he gave yesterday.