Thank you, Margaret, thank you, Paul, for those fantastic introductions.
And I also want to thank Constantin Cotzias for hosting us today.
And for all the great work you do at Bloomberg.
And most of all, I want to thank you, representatives of British business.
For what you do for our country every single day.
We’re here to launch our business manifesto.
It is a plan we have worked on with so many of you over the last five years.
Our plan is based on the idea that Britain can only succeed when all our businesses have the chance to succeed.
And smaller businesses.
The multinational company and the family firm.
The FTSE 100 and the start-up insurgent.
Playing by the rules.
And paying the taxes that support our public services.
Our plan is to work with all our businesses.
With a government that balances the books, invests in infrastructure and works with you to improve skills and open up more competitive markets.
It is a better plan for prosperity in which a proper industrial strategy builds on the great strengths of British business to deliver higher wages, higher skills and higher profits for firms and families together.
And it is a plan that won’t risk jobs, exports and investment – or throw businesses into years of uncertainty – by threatening to leave the European Union.
Britain has a huge number of advantages and so many success stories in business to celebrate.
We have world-leading firms and sectors.
Huge drive and creativity.
A distinct British talent that invents and innovates to be the envy of the world.
But there are too many obstacles in your way.
Too often our businesses are left to succeed despite the odds.
Inspired by determined leadership and a dedicated work force.
But too often find themselves in a sea of insecurity.
Every business here knows the story.
The struggle to get the skills you need.
The lack of certainty about the long term.
A recovery that sometimes feels like it’s happening to someone else, somewhere else.
And we see these challenges in our country most of all in low productivity.
For every hour worked, we produce nearly 20 per cent less than our main competitors in the G7.
Our productivity gap is at its highest level for nearly a quarter of a century.
This is our biggest economic challenge, as we lose our competitive edge in a world that won’t wait.
There is no future for Britain as a how-low-can-you-go economy.
Productivity is the key to the country we wish to be.
With opportunity for all.
Our plan for business seeks to close our productivity gap.
It starts with strong economic foundations.
Because our economy can’t grow without secure public finances.
So we’ll balance the books and cut the deficit every year.
As soon as possible in the next Parliament, we’ll create a surplus on the current budget and national debt will be falling.
Next, we will build on these strong foundations by tackling some of the deep, decades’ long challenges that hold British business back.
Our business manifesto lays them out today.
But let me talk about just two.
Across the country, businesses tell me about the struggle for skills.
The struggle to find the workforce they need.
It’s not because our young people lack talent.
It’s because their potential is going to waste.
So we’ll start a revolution in vocational education.
Calling time on an idea that’s gripped our country for too long.
That it’s the academic route for the best, poor quality vocational training for the rest.
It’s bad for young people.
It’s bad for business.
And it’s bad for Britain.
We need all our young people to have access to world class education, training and skills.
So we’ll create a clear pathway to a new gold standard Technical Baccalaureate.
Maths and English until 18.
And if people work hard and get the grades, we’ll make sure there will always be an offer of a high-quality apprenticeship.
We know we can’t do this alone.
We can only create the apprenticeships we need by working together with you.
Government and business.
Public sector and private.
It is a partnership for a purpose.
We will give you control of the money for apprenticeships.
And in exchange we will say that any firm that gets a major government contract will have to provide apprenticeships to the next generation.
Opportunities for all our young people, not just some of them.
And well-trained employees for your firms.
Second, we need to tackle the problem of access to finance.
We know firms still struggle to get the support they need, whether they are just starting out or trying to get vital investment in a new idea.
We will change that.
We will create a British Investment Bank, supporting a network of regional banks.
To invest in businesses in every single part of Britain.
And we will have a market share threshold to make sure there is more competition in business banking on the High Street.
Real choice for businesses like yours.
We need an effective banking sector and we will work with our banks to ensure that they work for our businesses once again.
These are big changes – to skills and to finance – and they are essential for Britain to succeed.
We will make other changes too.
Reforming the energy market.
New rules on transparency in executive pay.
And reforms to make it easier for companies to take a long-term view.
But just as we need change, you need stability and certainty too.
You need to know that we won’t be a government that kicks over the traces for the sake of it.
Rip everything up and start again.
So, for example, we’ll improve Local Enterprise Partnerships rather than instigating another disruptive top-down reorganisation.
You need certainty about tax as well, so you know Britain will continue to be competitive, come what may.
That’s why we’ve pledged to keep corporation tax at the lowest rate in the G7.
And for people like Paul and Margaret, we will cut and freeze business rates for smaller firms.
Because we think that is the priority for business tax cuts.
And you need certainty about infrastructure.
So you know you’ll get the support you need to succeed.
That’s why we’ll follow the recommendation of Sir John Armitt and set up a new independent National Infrastructure Commission.
To break the cycle of dither and delay that’s left our country creaking.
Trying to run a 21st century economy on 20th century foundations.
This is a plan for our long-term future.
A better plan for British business.
And to build for the future.
And let me be very clear.
Our long term future lies inside, not outside, the European Union.
There could be nothing worse for our country or for our great exporting businesses than playing political games with our membership of the EU.
David Cameron used to understand that.
But in the past five years our place in the European Union has become less and less secure.
He used to say he would campaign to keep Britain in Europe.
But now he won’t rule out campaigning to leave.
He used to say he would be able to negotiate treaty change in Europe.
But now he prefers to keep quiet about that too.
He came to power promising to stop his party “banging on about Europe”.
Now if he carries on this way, he’ll have us inside the European Union banging on the door to leave.
Or even worse, outside the European Union, banging on the door to be let back in.
I want to be clear about what is at stake in this election for British business.
He has an arbitrary timetable, after a set of negotiations which require the agreement of 27 other member states.
He oversees a divided Conservative Party, half of whom want to leave, and he is a Prime Minister who doesn’t seem to know his own mind.
And at the same time he promises a leadership contest in the Conservative Party, with candidates vying against each other for who can be the most extreme on Europe.
It is a recipe for two years of uncertainty in which inward investment will drain away.
Two years of uncertainty in which businesses will not be able to plan for the future.
And two years of wasted opportunities for progress, for profit, for prosperity.
A clear and present danger to British jobs, British business, British families and British prosperity.
It threatens to shut UK businesses out of a market that gives them access to the world’s largest trading bloc.
It’s simply the wrong direction for our country.
If you care about strong foundations.
If you care about long-term stability.
If you care about prosperity, then Britain must be a committed member of a reformed European Union.
Not threatening to leave.
Not locked out of the room.
The job of the next Prime Minister is to open new markets for business not close them off.
And we should be reforming Europe from the inside.
To build an EU that supports the needs of business.
To build an EU that spends its budget wisely.
To build an EU with fair rules on immigration.
We’ll show strong leadership to get the best for Britain.
We won’t condemn this country to years of uncertainty.
Years of insecurity.
By threatening our European future.
That’s the basis of our plan for business.
Labour’s better plan for a better future.
And it’s a big day to launch our business manifesto.
After all the commentary, all the arguments, it now begins in earnest.
I don’t know whether that fills you with excitement or something else.
But this election really matters.
For me, this election is about you, your family and our country.
We need to be a country that rewards your hard work again, not what we have seen over the last five years where wages fall behind bills.
We need to be a country that gives a future to all our sons and daughters.
Not what we have seen over the last five years where young people fear a worse life than their parents’.
We need to be a country that rescues our NHS with more doctors and nurses.
Not what we have seen over the last five years where the NHS slides into crisis.
There are two futures on offer at this election:
To carry on with a Conservative plan based on the idea that as long as the richest and most powerful succeed, everyone else will be OK.
Or a Labour plan, a better plan, that says it is only when working people succeed that Britain succeeds.
My case to you over the course of this general election campaign is that Britain can do so much better for you and your family.
And this is a country we can only build together.
A partnership for a purpose between government and business.
Supporting you to create long-lasting prosperity that reaches right across our society – from your firms to everybody’s front door.
Sound economic foundations.
Creating higher living standards for working families.
Inspiring hope for young people.
These are our goals.
This is our plan.
Let’s build a better country together.