We’ve heard from the Chancellor this morning about the challenges of deficit reduction and economic growth.
A clear and frank appraisal of the task ahead; and a clear explanation of how the tough decisions now will lead to a better future for this generation and the next. We saw his iron resolve to stick to our deficit reduction plan.
A resolve that was vindicated even as he was speaking by Standard and Poors – the Credit Rating Agency that has just downgraded America’s debt, confirming Britain’s AAA credit status.
Meaning we can carry on borrowing to finance our Greek-level deficit at German-type rates.
But warning that any wavering of resolve could lead to a downgrade.
A great big raspberry to those calling for Plan B.
But it’s not just about the deficit.
We heard from the Chancellor about concrete measures to stimulate growth, support business, attract investment and create jobs.
Honesty about where we are; a clear vision for Britain’s future; and clarity about how we get there.
The contrast with last week could not be starker.
The Two Eds Show.
First of all there’s Ed B- he’s the scary looking one.
Whose qualifications include being Gordon Brown’s “Chief Economic Adviser” and the man who deregulated the banks so they could borrow themselves into oblivion.
So obviously, they’ve put him in charge of Labour’s economic policy.
We used to say he didn’t have a plan.
But now he does.
It’s a simple one.
And it draws on his past experience.
He’ll tackle Britain’s debt crisis by borrowing more.
Like an alcoholic in a bar with a credit card.
Just one more, teensy-weensy little unfunded tax cut.....
.....a mere £23 billion extra on the nation’s credit card....
And then he’ll go straight. He promises. Honest Guv.
And then there’s Ed M.
He’s the “not-as-scary-looking-as-he’d-like-to-be” one.
While we are straining every sinew to encourage investment and job creation;
To let the world know that Britain is open for business,
His contribution, egged on by his union paymasters, was an ill-informed attack on the people who create the wealth and the jobs we so desperately need.
Talking Britain down
A ridiculous and unworkable plan that showed his own ignorance and naivety
As well as the job-destroying, anti-enterprise instincts of his party.
A lurch to the left at a time when Britain can least afford it.
So George Osborne re-iterated this morning our steadfast commitment to the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan.
But he also explained that it is a plan based on purpose, not ideology.
And it is only one part of a two-pronged strategy.
Sound public finances are the essential foundation on which to construct a better-balanced economy from the wreckage of Labour’s boom and bust.
But it is economic growth that will create the jobs and the prosperity for the future...
....and enable us to pay down Labour’s debt.
Britain is one of the world’s most open economies.
More dependent on trade than any other major country.
Our success depends on our competitiveness....
....and our competitiveness depends on raising our productivity....
As our competitors are raising theirs.
So when Ministers in this Government talk about investing in education and skills
About making the planning system work;
About employment law reform....
....and delivering transport and power generation and broadband communication infrastructure
We are talking about raising Britain’s productivity.
Ensuring the competitiveness of British businesses
And securing the wages of British workers.
I have been clear from the day I was appointed to this job that Transport must play a key role in this agenda.
Supporting economic growth and the deficit reduction plan....
....as well as the Government’s carbon reduction targets.
Some of our transport investment plans, like High Speed Two, are long term
But others, like new road schemes and rail electrification, and the Mersey Gateway Bridge announced this morning, can be implemented more quickly
Not only delivering long-term improvements to productivity, but also creating jobs when they are needed most.
So my Department, like all the domestic Departments with capital budgets allocated at the Spending Review.
Will re-double our efforts to make sure that every penny of those capital budgets gets spent effectively.
And on time.
And that every penny of public money levers out as much matching private investment as possible.
So Eric Pickles and I will make sure that the new £500m Growing Places fund announced two weeks ago is disbursed quickly
Supporting infrastructure investment that will un-stick development projects.
Putting in the roads and the power and the drains that are needed to get sites opened up and the builders back to work.
To get cranes back on the skyline, and spades in the ground.
The Spending Review last autumn underlined this Government’s commitment to transport investment as an engine for economic recovery.
£30 billion of capital for transport over the Spending Review period.
More than Labour - for all their claims of “Tory cuts” - managed in the previous four years.
Within that budget, we are prioritising the projects that will support economic growth.
£10 billion of investment in our roads and £20 billion on public transport networks.
The biggest programme of rail investment since the Victorian era.
The Ordsall Chord as the first stage of the vital Northern Hub, right here in Manchester;
2,700 new rail carriages.
A massive electrification programme.
The green light for Crossrail and Thameslink and the Intercity Express Train.
A multi-billion pound tube upgrade programme.
And, of course, we’ve just finished a consultation on our plans for HS2 - a new high speed rail network linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
A project that would transform the social and economic geography of Britain - and put desperately-needed new capacity on our railways.
As well as slashing the train journey time between Manchester and Euston by almost an hour to just 73 minutes.
I know that these huge infrastructure projects, like the reforms to the planning system that Eric has announced, provoke some strong opposition.
Just as the building of the original Victorian railways did. And the construction of the M25 – which runs through my backyard.
But imagine Britain without them now.
As an individual, I respect people’s instinct to defend their own back yards
But the job of Government is to act in the interest of the nation as a whole
Taking the tough decisions for the long term, even when the temptation for politicians is to look to the next four years – not the next forty.
We have taken the tough decisions to tackle the deficit and the debt.
Now we must take the tough decisions that will secure Britain’s future as a high-productivity, high wage economy.
Investing for growth.
And to those who say Britain cannot afford to invest in infrastructure....
I say “we cannot afford not to invest in our future”.
For six decades we have lagged our competitors in infrastructure investment
Consuming, while they were investing for the future
And the legacy of that short-termism is all around us.
As part of our commitment to a sustainable prosperity in the future, we will have to invest a bit more of what we produce
So that our businesses can compete on a level playing field.
And talking of level playing fields -
In the wake of the Thameslink rolling stock award, we’re also taking a long, hard look at public procurement policy to make sure UK-based firms have a fair shot at our big procurement contracts.
Looking closely at how things are done by our EU competitors.
Because while I believe firmly in open markets and free trade
I also believe an open market needs a level playing field.
And in the meantime, we will do everything we can to support UK train building and the supply chain that supports it.
Our rail agenda is not just about the big infrastructure projects
It’s also about making the existing railway work better.
We inherited from Labour one of the most expensive railways in Europe.
With some of the highest fares in Europe and the highest levels of taxpayer subsidy as well.
In the short term, we’ve had to take another tough decision - to increase fares above inflation to carry on investing to tackle overcrowding and unreliability.
But in the medium term, this is not sustainable.
We cannot go on indefinitely paying for the inefficiency of the railway with above inflation fare rises and massive public subsidy.
We have to solve this problem from the bottom up – by improving efficiency.
We’ve got a new Government, new management at Network Rail, and a raft of franchises coming up for renewal
It’s a once in a generation opportunity to act and we will seize it.
So with Theresa Villiers, the rail Minister, I will shortly publish a comprehensive blueprint for reforming our railways.
Asking the hard questions about taxpayer subsidy…
...and considering the options for greater local commissioning of services.
Looking again at the role of Government, Network Rail, and the train operators.
Aligning the interests of all the parties
Making Train Operators more accountable to their customers.
...and Network Rail more accountable to the train operators.
And giving railway employees a real interest in the success of the companies they work for.
So when I say “all the parties”, yes, that does include Bob Crow.
As far as the railway is concerned, we are all in this together!
Roads / War on the motorist
Sustainability is, of course, just as important for our roads as it is for our railways.
And the fact is that, outside our major urban conurbations, for many, the car is a lifeline.
And one they are not going to give up without a fight.
That is the political reality.
And in any case, the car was never the enemy.
Labour was mad to target the motorist.
The enemy is the carbon.
So our challenge is to drive a massive switch to the ultra-low emission vehicles that are gradually coming to the market...
So that in the decades to come, zero emission cars become the norm.
Coupled with the decarbonisation of our electricity grid
That will represent a huge contribution by transport to the Government’s Carbon reduction targets.
And we are already making early progress
By committing £400m of public subsidy for low-emission vehicles and charging infrastructure, we have become a leader in Europe on low emission cars.
Attracting investment to the North East as Nissan commit to build electric cars and batteries in Britain.
And where Nissan lead....
....others will follow.
Cutting carbon emissions.
Creating jobs and investment.
Truly sustainable growth.
Getting Britain making things again.
Allowing the car to be a part of our transport future.
Last year I told you that the war on the motorist was over.
And to seal the deal, I announced the scrapping of its most totemic symbol: John Prescott’s M4 Bus Lane.
Making life easier for the 15,000 motorists who use that stretch of road every day.
None of the chaos promised by the doomsayers has occurred
And journey time savings have been much greater than predicted.
And it doesn’t end there: we are developing a new lane rental scheme to stop needless digging up of major roads at peak times.
And I’ve asked Mike Penning, the roads minister, to look again at whether we can reduce the burden of the MOT test.
But there is more to do if our strategic roads are to be the arteries of commerce they were always intended to be.
So we are thinking smarter about how we get our motorways working better.
Making the best use of the roads we have already paid for.
In one area, it might be peak time or even permanent hard shoulder running to ease congestion.
In another, it might be variable speed limits to keep traffic flowing.
And yes, I am going to review the 70mph limit on our motorways.
The limit that was introduced way back in 1965 - when the Ford Anglia was the typical family car.
Now I am going to let you into a secret:
My first car was a Ford Anglia.
And I distinctly recall that the speedometer dial only went up to 70.
And you couldn’t even do that unless you were on a pretty decent downhill slope!
Preferably with a light breeze behind you.
No servo brakes.
No power steering
No seat belts or air bags
No crumple zones or rollover bars
If my memory serves me correctly, mine didn’t even have a heater!
Things have changed a bit since then.
There have been huge advances in car technology.
Road deaths have been reduced by three-quarters
Meanwhile, the 70mph limit has been discredited because it’s failed to keep up with these changes – with almost half of all motorists exceeding it.
Bringing the law into disrepute
So I will consult on increasing the limit on motorways to 80 mph.
Bringing millions of ordinary motorists back within the law.
Restoring the legitimacy of the speed limit system.
Speeding up journey times.
Delivering hundreds of millions of pounds of net economic benefits
And putting Britain firmly in the global economic fast lane.
I can tell you, in confidence, that I have had an approach from one of my Cabinet colleagues inquiring whether the change could be retrospective – but I am afraid I have had to disappoint him.
All of us here are involved in politics because we believe Britain’s best years are ahead of us.
That our country has a future.
And our children have a chance.
We wouldn’t have chosen to start with the legacy we inherited.
But it falls to us to clear up the mess Labour left behind.
And to set Britain on a course to a better future.
And I am clear that Transport has a vital role to play in that rebuilding and rebalancing of our economy.
With economic growth and carbon reduction delivered hand in hand as we look ahead to a sustainable future.
Investing in our infrastructure.
Boosting Britain’s growth.
Building for the future.