On Monday morning, I visited the Lilian Baylis Technology School in South London, and met an extraordinary girl called Claudia. With a smile, she told me she had chosen maths because everyone had warned her off the idea, that it was too difficult. She wanted to confront the challenge, and prove she was the best. I could sense she was someone we would be hearing about again.
It’s people like her that convince me of this country’s bright future. People deride young people these days as self-obsessed and lazy. But I see the under-30s as the most independently-minded and intrepid of our times. With their industry and entrepreneurial spirit, they have contributed to a remarkable story: out of the ashes of the economic crash, our GDP has grown for five consecutive years and employment is at record levels.
I am proud of what we have achieved. But I am not complacent, because I want us to make Britain the most energetic, exciting economy on Earth.
So, how do we get there? Well, firstly, for an increasingly technological and data-centred world, we need more young people like Claudia. That’s why this government has launched a scheme to give schools £600 for every pupil they encourage to take maths beyond the age of 16. Even now, people who have taken A-level maths go on to enjoy up to 10 per cent higher wages in their 30s. Who knows what that figure will be in a generation’s time?
Secondly, we need to champion entrepreneurs, those special few who want to change the status quo for the better. And we must keep vigilant control of the size of Government, otherwise taxes will destroy the desire to work.
Thirdly, we need to cultivate strong market competition, and allow newcomers to take on the incumbents. We must make sure there is a level playing field where innovative companies can offer better, cheaper alternatives. We’ve already had major success in certain sectors, including the authorisation of 15 new banks, which has reduced the stranglehold of the big four in the UK.
Lastly, we need to look at planning regulations and building homes in the right places. When I moved to London from Leeds as a graduate in the 1990s, I came because of the opportunities on offer here. But while I could afford to find somewhere to live, young people these days just can’t get flats near the jobs they want. This is deeply economically damaging, as growing companies need to attract new staff to continue developing. Treasury analysis suggests building in the right areas would be one of the fastest ways of boosting productivity. According to a study by the American economist, Matthew Rognlie, the increase in wealth inequality can be blamed almost entirely on disparities in housing wealth. That’s why Sajid Javid’s planning reforms are so important.
We know the path ahead, then. But what could hold us back? Our main opponents will be those with a vested interest in expanding Government, and those who want less freedom, and more control. These are the people who benefit from the status quo, who embrace inertia, who hoard and jealously guard influence. They can be lobbyists, big corporations, unions, bureaucrats. But together, I call them the Blob. They are gloopy, treacly, hard to define, and harder to resist. They often present themselves as warm and cuddly, and belch out platitudes: that they are protecting people, upholding standards, defending livelihoods. And they will ask and ask again for Government favours – arguing that they are the exception, that their cause deserves coddling and sympathy.
I believe one of the main roles of Government is to keep our economy free and fair. It’s vital to our economic mission that we fight vested interests, and make sure our country’s opportunities are open to everyone – big or small, north or south, man or woman.
For all their talk of being alternative and anti-establishment, Labour are exactly the opposite. On Monday, we heard Jeremy Corbyn outline Labour’s plans for using Brexit as an excuse to increase state aid. Their handouts and sweeteners would be paid for in higher taxes on small business and families. And their plans for nationalisations, compulsory land purchases and a crackdown on free enterprise would put people out of jobs and destroy the country’s entrepreneurial zeal.
We will not let this happen. Britain is the home of economic freedom, with liberty guaranteed by the independence of our state institutions, and an absence of corruption assured by transparency. We believe individuals make the best decisions for themselves. And we believe in people being the agents, not the victims, of their economic destiny.