Conference, thank you.
It’s wonderful to be back here with so many of you in Birmingham this year.
Speaking to you today from the heart of the West Midlands – it serves as a powerful reminder that this region was the crucible from which much of the modern world was built.
As the Mayor, Andy Street, is tireless in saying as he promotes this wonderful region.
The infrastructure that powered that growth can still be seen today, and we are giving it a new 21st century boost.
Less than a mile away from here, I visited Curzon Street – one of the first train stations built in the UK. It has facilitated passengers and freight for over a hundred years.
Designed by Robert Stephenson – one of Newcastle’s finest exports, providing designs and inspiration for constructions around the world – it took 20,000 workers nearly five years to build.
Today, 27,000 workers have spades in the ground, with so many of them working to reopen and transform stations. These will serve at the heart of our newest high-speed railway delivering additional capacity for the network, drawing in huge investment into the region – and of course, helping the whole country and our economy to grow.
From land to sea, the UK also has a historic leadership in underwriting prosperity and trade.
Shipping continues to drive the global economy today, just as it has done for millennia.
Our seas are by far the most important arteries for global trade, carrying over 95% of all goods.
But while our maritime industry normally conducts its business beyond the public gaze, recent events have thrust global supply chains into the spotlight-and in particular, the importance of resilient and secure shipping routes.
At Transport, we are charged with ensuring the security of all networks that move goods, people and information around the world, and that underpin our way of life and our economy.
We have seen Putin weaponise food by trying to crush the economic and humanitarian criticality of Ukraine’s agricultural economy.
In blockading those Ukrainian ports, Putin has prevented the export of global grain supplies.
Our maxim is to ensure the UK is and remains the most secure and reliable nation to trade with globally.
Because at a time when Russian aggression is disrupting established trade routes,
it has never been more important for the international community to come together and protect global shipping.
So, we will work with all our partners to ensure maritime trade and travel continues to operate safely, securely and sustainably, right around the world.
Now Conference, there is an elephant in the room today.
We cannot ignore that nine out of ten train services were at a standstill last Saturday – with further strikes planned tomorrow and this coming Saturday.
While our priority, our overwhelming objective, is to grow our economy and tackle the rising cost of living, we also have to deal with rolling strike action.
Strikes disrupt everyday life for everyone and slow down our prospects for growth.
The more quickly we can resolve these disputes, the sooner all our efforts can be spent on getting our economy motoring at full speed.
Despite soaring international energy prices, the war in Ukraine and the continued global impact of COVID, we are taking the necessary action to help families and businesses.
We can only do this through growth and having the infrastructure that makes this possible.
We want to transform the rail industry to make it sustainable for the next 100 years.
The very last thing our country needs right now is more damaging industrial disputes.
My message to the trade union membership is simple: please take your seats at the negotiating table and let’s find a landing zone which we can all work with.
Punishing passengers and inflicting damage on our economy by striking is not the answer.
As a former Trade Secretary, I know something about making deals.
And I can tell you, there is a deal to be done between the unions and our train operators. It’s a deal that will require compromise. So I want to see positive proposals to bridge the differences.
As part of these, I am asking industry to launch consultations on reforming our ticket office provision across the country.
The way we buy everything from groceries to holidays has transformed over the last decade. Online shopping is increasingly the norm, and all our favourite retail stores are using the latest self-service tech, making the in-store experience quicker and smoother, with fewer queues and more convenience.
We’re seeing the same trend on the railways with a huge increase in online ticket sales – today, only 12% of transactions take place at ticket offices. We need to be looking at ways to move with the trend and support our customers in the most effective way possible.
There will be some stations where the ticket office will be important to the running of the station. In other areas rail employees may be better in front of the glass helping passengers in other ways.
This is not about cutting jobs – this is about putting the passenger at the heart of the Railway.
We all want the same outcome – to modernise the railway so that customers can choose rail as their preferred travel method with confidence and with ease.
I hope Union leaders together with employers will work with us to deliver the much-needed changes and resolution, so that together we can grow the economy for everyone.
Just as coal power and steam propulsion powered a global revolution in growth and development – which transformed everything from medicines to transport and brought prosperity across the world – we are at the tipping point of another revolution that has the potential to transform.
The way that all our modes of transport are powered is changing at pace.
Hydrogen fuels. Net Zero Emission Vehicles. Sustainable Aviation Fuels. Green shipping corridors.
Those markets that change first, and have the potential to grow fastest, will go the furthest. We want UK Business to lead the way on this new clean growth revolution.
That’s why we are investing record amounts in our roads, in our railways and future green transport solutions, to provide the conditions that will make sure business can grow on the back of clean transport.
Building the vital connections that will open up access to jobs, education and housing across the whole of the United Kingdom.
This Government is unashamedly going for growth.
Growth is key to delivering jobs, higher wages and more money to invest in world class public services.
A key part of achieving that growth is keeping our promises and delivering for the people.
Speaking as the Member of Parliament who has campaigned for dualling the A1 – a road improvement first promised in 1992 - and was elected on that promise, delivering on our promises is firmly on my mind.
The A1 is just one example.
The A303 is another. One of the main gateways to the South West, it acts as a bottleneck to growth. So we are committed to getting these road solutions delivered.
Delivery is the key.
Something my fantastic ministerial team are focussed on.
Kevin Foster – is taking on the challenge of modernising our Railway.
Katherine Fletcher – will deliver the Roads the Prime Minister has asked me to accelerate, which the Chancellor announced in his Growth Plan.
Baroness Vere – will work to decarbonise the aviation industry.
Lucy Frazer who will be working on the Future of Transport, making it fit for a modern world.
And our Parliamentary Private Secretaries Marco Longhi, Anthony Browne, and Damian Moore in the Whips Office are going to help us stay on track.
As a rural constituency MP, one of the most common issues that gets raised with me is the state of my local roads. Indeed – I became very popular overnight with many colleagues who have constituents raising similar issues with them.
That’s why we have set aside a pothole fund to repair 10 million potholes a year.
So motorway or local street, this is a government which will invest so that our country can grow. We are a team that is determined to get spades into the ground at pace.
Conference, we’ve got a lot to do – it’s time to Get Britain Moving.