The last time I spoke at Conference was as Foreign Secretary five years ago. After that I thought my time in government was over. So, it’s great to see the PM getting the over 50s back into meaningful work.
I do, however, have some very youthful under 50s in my ministerial team so thank you John Glen, Andrew Griffith, Vicky Atkins, Gareth Davies, JoJo Penn, Mark Fletcher, Paul Howell, Anthony Mangall and Andrew Stephenson for their brilliant work.
And it’s great to be in Manchester. Since 2010 this great region has seen unemployment halve, nearly 200,000 more jobs and six new tech unicorns. Labour mayors talk up the problems but it’s Conservatives who chalk up the jobs.
Now, our friends at the Office for National Statistics have recently changed their mind about the size of the British economy.
They had been saying we were the worst performing large European economy since the pandemic.
But we weren’t the worst.
We were one of the best.
Since the pandemic we’ve recovered better than France or Germany.
We’ve grown faster than both of them since we left the single market.
And since 2010 we’ve grown faster than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, and Japan…so to all the pessimists and declinists who’ve been talking us down, we say this: don’t bet against Britain – it’s been tried before and it never works.
Conference it’s nice to set the record straight. But Rishi Sunak and I care more about the future than the past. And our plan’s very simple.
We’re going to make Britain a global leader in the industries of the future – the world’s next Silicon Valley.
And it’s already happening.
Last year we became only the third trillion dollar tech economy in the world.
Our tech sector is now double the size of Germany’s and three times France.
British-discovered vaccines and treatments saved seven million lives across the world in the pandemic – more than from any other country.
We do more offshore wind than anywhere in Europe.
We’ve got three huge electric car factories being built.
We’re Europe’s biggest film and TV production centre – and next time I want to see Barbie wearing a Union Jack because that too was filmed in Britain.
My Mansion House reforms are part of that because they’ll help fast growing companies source billions of pounds of extra capital. We don’t just want them to start here, we want them stay here because as we become a science superpower there’s nowhere better to be.
All this happens not from quick fixes but long term decisions. Which is what you get with Rishi Sunak.
We Conservatives know if you get the economy right, everything else comes right too.
So right now we’re focused on bringing down inflation.
Nothing hurts families more when it comes to the weekly shop, heating bills or pump prices – which is why the Prime Minister has pledged to halve it.
And we’re getting there. It was over 11%. It’s now down by 40%.
The plan is working – and now we must see it through just as Margaret Thatcher did many years ago.
Conference, when we halve inflation, that’s not a one percent income tax cut, it’s a 5% boost to incomes compared to if it stayed the same.
But just as we’re succeeding, what’s Labour planning? Some £28bn a year of new borrowing.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies say borrowing on that scale risks fuelling inflation and keeping interest rates higher.
Labour can change the fiscal rules, they can dress it up as ‘responsible,’ but if they increase borrowing, they increase debt and that means higher taxes, higher mortgages and higher inflation for families…that’s not an economic policy, it’s an economic illusion.
And it underlines the elemental choice in British politics, the choice behind all other choices.
Sound money under the Conservatives or run out of money under Labour. Never again Conference, never again.
Conservatives will always protect public services, but we’re also honest about the taxes that pay for them.
After a once in a century pandemic and the biggest energy crisis in a generation, the level of tax is too high.
We were right to protect jobs and families – and thanks to Rishi’s furlough scheme we recovered faster from the pandemic than others. But with an ageing population and a war in Europe, public spending is still growing faster than the economy.
Some say that is inevitable. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said last week it’s likely to be a ‘decisive and permanent shift to a higher tax economy’. Conference they are wrong.
We need a more productive state not a bigger state.
If we increase public sector productivity growth by just half a percent, we can stabilise public spending as a proportion of GDP. Increase it by more and we can bring the tax burden down.
Half a percent.
For those of us with private sector backgrounds that doesn’t seem too much, does it? In the public sector, I’m telling you, it’s harder – but we are up for the challenge.
So I’ve commissioned my deputy, John Glen, to restart the process of public service reform.
He wants to know why teachers say more than half of their time is not actually teaching…why police officers complain they spend longer filling out forms than catching criminals…and why doctors and nurses say they spend up to half their time not with patients but on admin.
Of course we need modern working practices and better IT. But the Treasury too needs to change its focus from short term cost control to long term cost reduction.
And we’re going to start with the Civil Service.
We have the best civil servants in the world – and they saved many lives in the pandemic by working night and day.
But even after that pandemic is over, we still have 66,000 more civil servants than before.
New policies should not always mean new people.
So today I’m freezing the expansion of the civil service and putting in place a plan to reduce its numbers to pre-pandemic levels.
This will save £1 billion next year.
And I won’t lift the freeze until we have a proper plan not just for the civil service but for all public sector productivity improvements.
That means, amongst other things, changing our approach to equality and diversity initiatives. Smashing glass ceilings is everyone’s job – not a box to be ticked by hiring a diversity manager.
But I’m going to surprise you with one equality and diversity initiative of my own, trust me you’ll like this one: nobody should have their bank account closed because someone else decides they’re not politically correct. We’ll tighten the law to stop people being debanked for the wrong political views.
The Lib Dems are wrong to want to overturn a democratic Brexit vote. But they still need a cashpoint to withdraw their euros.
The SNP are wrong to ignore a democratic vote for the Union. But they still need a bank account to pay for their motorhomes.
And even Keir Starmer, who’s wrong on just about everything, needs his trade union cash so he can too have a bank account… just never the keys to Downing Street.
There’s somewhere else where we need to rethink the way the state works: our welfare system.
I’m proud to live in a country where, as Churchill said, there’s a ladder everyone can climb but also a safety net below which no one falls.
That safety net is paid from tax. And that social contract depends on fairness to those in work alongside compassion to those who are not.
That means work must pay… and we’re making sure it does. From last year, for the first time ever, you can earn £1,000 a month without paying a penny of tax or national insurance.
But despite that even when companies are struggling to find of workers, around 100,000 people are leaving the labour market every year for a life on benefits.
Mel Stride gets this 100% which is why he’s replacing the Work Capability Assessment.
And we’re going to look at the way the sanctions regime works. It isn’t fair that someone who refuses to look seriously for a job gets the same as someone trying their best.
Now Labour have pledged to end sanctions. Have they learned nothing? When they left office we had more children in workless households than nearly anywhere in Europe. Since then, those households are down by a million – and Conference we are never ever going back.
So to make sure work continues to pay, today I take a step forwards towards completing another great Conservative reform, the National Living Wage.
Since we introduced it, nearly two million people have been lifted from absolute poverty after housing costs.
Not by tax credits or benefits but by removing the barriers to work. Boosting salaries, cutting tax… making work pay.
We promised in our manifesto to raise the National Living Wage to two thirds of median income – ending low pay in this country.
At the moment it is £10.42 an hour and we’re waiting for the Low Pay Commission to tell us next year’s recommendation.
But I confirm today, whatever that recommendation, we will increase the National Living Wage to at least £11 an hour next year.
That’s a pay rise for 2 million workers.
And the wages of the lowest paid over £9,000 higher than they were in 2010 – because if you work hard a Conservative government will always have your back.
It’s easy to support higher growth, better public services and lower taxes.
Harder to make it happen.
In Britain today there’s only one party prepared to make those difficult decisions.
And our Prime Minister.
Whose diligence and tenacity have given us the Windsor Framework, the Atlantic Declaration, the Trans-Pacific Trade Deal and the NHS Workforce Plan.
Whose own life story shows just what’s possible with education, aspiration and hard work.
His story… and our story.
Conference it’s time to roll up our sleeves…take on the declinists;…and watch the British economy prove the doubters wrong.