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Nick Clegg's speech to the British Chamber of Commerce

February 10, 2015 12:01 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will today (Tuesday 10 February) give a speech to the British Chamber of Commerce.

In his speech, Nick will set a new ambition to help one million more women into work by 2020.

He is expected to say:

"British businesses have led an extraordinary success story over the last five years. And you have done so in extremely difficult circumstances.

"We have one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world.

"We now have more people in work than ever before.

"We have more women in work than ever before.

"A record 2m 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.

"The most important thing a government can provide for businesses is stability and just a few short years ago that was far from guaranteed.

"Cast your minds back to the turbulent days of spring 2010.

"The aftershocks of the financial collapse of 2008 were still shuddering through our economy.

"No one knew where the next shock would come from and where it would lead.

"While British voters were heading to the polls, images of riots on the streets of Athens were beamed into British homes.

"Five years on it seems hard to believe, but we could have been Greece. In 2010, their deficit was 11% of GDP, ours was 10%.

"As the Greek economy fell of a cliff, ours teetered on the edge.

"It could have been us, but it wasn't because we took the decision to form a new kind of Government: a strong, stable coalition government capable of rescuing the economy.

"The recovery that we - government and business - have achieved since then was not inevitable.

"It is because British businesses invested, expanded and created jobs.

"And it is because the coalition took the difficult decisions necessary to get our finances back under control and provided a bedrock of consistent, stable government, that we have turned the economy around.

"But the repair job is not finished. Now is not the time to veer off from the sensible, balanced approach we have taken.

"Yet, as the election approaches, that is what both Labour and the Conservatives propose to do.

"So forgive me if I say a few words about the political choices which face the country at the General Election in May.

"There are big differences between the political parties which could have a big impact on the British economy, on your business, on the economic fortunes of our country.

"Labour has no coherent economic plan.

"Despite paying lip service to the need for deficit reduction, they have not given any indication how they intend to do it.

"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.

"Only the Liberal Democrats can keep the government in the centre ground and ensure we secure our economic recovery, finishing the job but finishing it fairly.

"Liberal Democrats will borrow less than Labour and cut less than the Conservatives.

"What Britain needs right now, what businesses need right now, is stability. We must not take that for granted.

"The early 21st century has been a time of great innovation and upheaval.

"As a party that seeks to spread opportunity, the Liberal Democrats will always face change with a spirit of optimism, innovation and endeavour.

"That's why, while bringing stability and recovery was always our number one priority, this was always about more than just returning to business as usual.

"We knew that if we wanted an economy that created opportunities for everyone that we would need to fundamentally rebalance it, away from its over-reliance on the financial sector in the City of London and towards skills, enterprise and growth in cities and towns across the whole United Kingdom.

"That meant a step change in skills investment, leading to the creation of 2m apprenticeships.

"It meant freeing up local areas from the grip of Whitehall through the Regional Growth Fund, City Deals and Local Growth Deals.

"And it meant supporting start-up companies, small businesses and green, high-tech manufacturers through the British Business Bank and the Green Investment Bank.

"That work has only just started. Creating a strong, liberal and open economy in which business and entrepreneurship can thrive is vital to the future prosperity of our country.

"That means securing the recovery, finishing the job of deficit reduction, in full and on time, but doing so fairly.

"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.

"That stable foundation is the platform on which we will build the strong, modern and innovative economy Britain needs to compete in the 21st century.

"We will build on the success of the Regional Growth Fund, which is on track to deliver more than half a million jobs and £16bn of private investment, continuing to invest in it throughout the Parliament.

"We will continue to develop our Industrial Strategy, working with key sectors which are critical to Britain's ability to trade internationally - such as the automotive industry, aerospace, and low-carbon energy.

"We will invest in major transport improvements and infrastructure to create a 'Northern Economic Corridor' to drive growth, innovation and prosperity across northern England.

"And we will continue to reform business tax to make sure it stays competitive, making small and medium-sized enterprises the priority for any business tax cuts.

"Liberal Democrats believe, above all else, in creating opportunities for people to get on and reach their potential, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

"When we see barriers, we want them torn down.

"When we find glass ceilings, we want them broken.

"When we see vested interests resisting change to protect themselves, we want to wrestle power away from them.

"Liberals will always challenge the established order because a country that denies opportunity to its citizens is a country that slips backwards.

"That's why building a modern workforce that takes advantage of the skills and talents of all our citizens, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, is crucial to building the modern economy we need to flourish in the 21st century.

"Investing in children and young people has been central to the Liberal Democrats' mission in Government.

"Even in tough financial times, we fought for more funding for early years education, for free school meals for infants, for the £2.5bn a year Pupil Premium to help children from the poorest backgrounds in primary and secondary school, and for a massive increase in apprenticeships.

"And we have no intention of letting up. We are the only party to commit to protecting education funding from cradle to college - not just for schools but early years and post-16 education too.

"We have committed to making sure every child will be taught by a qualified teacher.

"We have set an ambitious target to make sure that by 2025 every child leaves primary school able to read and write to a high standard.

"And we will continue to invest in apprenticeships, with a major expansion of high-quality and advanced apprenticeships.

"All of these things will help us build the modern workforce we need.

"But there is one glass ceiling in British society that is still proving difficult to break through.

"I am extremely proud that there are now more women in work in Britain than ever before.

"There are more women on the boards of our major companies than ever before.

"There are more opportunities for women than we have ever had in Britain before.

"We have started to crack the glass ceiling, but we are still a long way from smashing it.

"In Britain today, too many women find their talents are wasted.

"Too many women still face a heart-breaking choice between pursuing their career and caring for their family.

"And too many businesses let the status quo persist year after year.

"Breaking the glass ceiling is as much a challenge for politics as it is for business.

"There are too few women in parliament and at the highest rungs of government.

"And no party is exempt. My own parliamentary party is too male and too pale. We can and must do more to make sure our party and our politics is more representative of the people we serve.

"If we're going to smash the glass ceiling then we - government and business - need to be ambitious.

"So today, I want us to think big. By the end of the next parliament, I want a million more women to be in work than there are today.

"That's ambitious - but it's not out of reach.

"According to the OECD, the UK's female employment rate is better than average, but with a million more women in work it would put us in the top five countries.

"The number of women in work is increasing every year, we just need to accelerate that progress by removing the barriers that stop women who want to work from being able to do so.

"There are currently 6.5m working age women who are not in work.

"Of course, many will have chosen not to work and they have every right to do so, but for those who want to work we need to make sure that they have every opportunity to fulfil their potential.

"For example, a third of working age women not in the labour force have caring responsibilities, either for children or for elderly or vulnerable relatives.

"Many will wish to continue to care full-time, but those who want to work often find it impossible because of a lack of childcare, or flexibility at work, or complex benefit rules that mean work doesn't pay.

"It's why we have expanded the amount of free childcare available, so that it is easier for people who have taken time off to look after their babies to return to work.

"That's why we have introduced the right to request flexible working, so that the demands of the workplace can be better balanced with the demands of modern life.

"It's why, from this April, we are introducing shared parental leave, so that mums and dads can decide for themselves how to balance work and family.

"And it's why, in Government again, Liberal Democrats will go further.

"A month's use-it-or-lose-it paternity leave to incentivise fathers to take time off after their baby is born.

"Expanding free childcare further, to all two, three and four-year-olds.

"More support for carers - the unsung heroes of our society - to help them return to work if they want to, including increasing the amount they can earn before benefits are withdrawn.

"There are also 800,000 women who are currently unemployed but actively looking for work.

"We can help them by increasing incentives to work by raising the tax free allowance to £12,500, completing the roll out of Universal Credit and extending free school meals to all primary school children.

"There are hundreds of thousands of women currently not in work who have mental health problems.

"We can help them by finally ending the bias in the health system against mental health, bringing down waiting times and expanding access to psychological therapies to help people recover more quickly from anxiety and depression.

"Another success story of recent years is that the gap between the number of male and female entrepreneurs is narrowing.

"But we still have a way to go before that gap is closed.

"That's why I want us to invest more in support and training for female business mentors and encourage greater female take up of the Business Bank's Start Up Loans programme.

"At the highest levels, too many businesses are male-dominated and too many still have a big gap between the average pay of male and female employees.

"That gap is narrowing, but not quickly enough.

"We want to see a million more women employed, but crucially we want them treated equally to men once they're in work too.

"That's why we have stepped up our efforts to encourage girls into a wider range of careers, including encouraging more young women to pursue degrees in traditionally male-dominated areas like science and engineering.

"It's why we have worked to increase the representation of women on company boards.

"It's why we have promoted greater pay transparency and introduced measures and guidance to help companies identify and tackle their own pay gaps.

"And it's why my party wants to go further and introduce a requirement for companies that employ more than 250 people to publish the average pay of their male and female workers.

"But there is only so much Government can do. If we are to stand a chance of smashing that glass ceiling we need British business to hold the hammer.

"My challenge to you is to embrace change. Embrace shared parental leave. Embrace flexible working. Close the gender pay gap.

"If we can unlock the talents of women, British business will boom. We will be more innovative, more entrepreneurial, more dynamic.

"Together, we have achieved remarkable success over the last five years.

"We brought stability out of crisis.

"We have started to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, where there are opportunities for everyone.

"We took a broken economy and turned it into one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world.

"Now is the time to finish fixing the economy, do so fairly, and begin to think big about what Britain can become in the emerging new world of the 21st century.

"Together we can build the strong, liberal, modern and innovative economy of the future.

"Thank you."