Greg Clark: Doing our duty for the workers of this country

Greg Clark is the Business Secretary.Greg Clark is the Business Secretary.
Greg Clark is the Business Secretary.
OVER the last six years we have been able to report that we've created jobs, we've attracted investment and that we've achieved growth. We needed to.

Because every time there has been a Labour government, they’ve run out of other people’s money. Every time there has been a Labour government, we Conservatives have had to clean up the mess.

And every time – just like this time – we can proudly say: “We have done our duty”.

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But the truth of course is that it isn’t Government that creates jobs. When we say “we”, what we actually mean is “you”. The entrepreneurs, the small firms, the start-ups, the investors – British businesses and the people who work in them.

We have seen a great revival of enterprise in this country. During the last six years, almost three million new businesses have been created – more than at any time since the Victorian era. The taxes that our businesses pay contribute £140bn a year to our public services.

They have attracted more investment from overseas than any other western economy save the United States. We are a nation built on business, powered by business and whose future depends on business.

Growing up on Teesside, in the shadow of what was then ICI, and with the sky lit by the glow of the coke ovens of British Steel, I know the importance of big industry.

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But small business is in my blood too. My dad was a milkman, running the family business that my granddad started after the war. I saw first-hand what being in business means. Above all, the hard graft. My dad was no exception – up with the lark, seven days a week. If you’re in business you’re never off duty. As a youngster, I understood the effort, but what I didn’t always see so clearly was the other side of business – the quick thinking, the inventiveness, the sheer entrepreneurship.

Every business knows if you want to get ahead, you’ve got to think ahead. So too does the country. Planning how we to create the best conditions for British business in the long term is not optional but essential.

Of course, magnifying our strengths is not the same as protecting incumbency. We must act constantly to create the conditions for us to be open to new competitors – and indeed to new industries that may not exist anywhere today but which will shape our lives in the future.

The benefits of innovation must flow to consumers – in better products, improved service and cheaper prices.

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The best businesses value long-term relationships with their most loyal customers. The worst ones abuse them. And it’s not in the most competitive industries where people who are loyal to their supplier are fleeced, but where competition is most sluggish, and incumbents most dominant.

An economy that works for everyone must ensure that those with market power don’t use it against consumers – and especially those most vulnerable to exploitation

And the same applies to workers. Outside the family and education, work is the most important way in which people can develop their talents and spread their wings.

Thriving businesses spread opportunity. From Shaftesbury’s Factory Acts to William Hague’s Disability Discrimination Act, Conservatives have always understood that decent treatment of people at work is not at the expense of industrial success but is a foundation of it.

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This is why we have launched an immediate review of employment practice in the modern economy.

The best governments are the ones that sense that the world is changing and that the country has to change too. In 1979, Mrs Thatcher and the new government knew Britain needed to change to meet the modern world. She described 1979 as a year “not just part of history, but which made history”.

In the years to come, we will look back on 2016 as just such a time. The challenge facing us is this. For all the excellence and entrepreneurial brilliance that I have described. For all the assets and skills and reputation we have as a nation. For all of the astonishing economic progress we’ve made in this country. It is still too uneven. Britain can boast the richest area in Northern Europe – central London. But we also have nine of the 10 poorest. We Conservatives know that this is not good enough.

This is no time to lower our sights or our standards. Looking ahead, it’s clear that the only viable path is in the opposite direction.

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It is time for our country to have an upgrade. An upgrade in our infrastructure. An upgrade in the resilience – and the cleanness – of our energy supplies. An upgrade in our education and training. An upgrade in the development and regeneration of our towns and cities. Upwards to a country that invests. Upwards to a country of opportunity and of enterprise. Upwards to a country that works for everyone.

Greg Clark is the Business Secretary. This is an edited version of his party conference speech.