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Rt. Hon. Lord Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, Lord President of the Council
Birmingham, 06 February 2009
Mr Speaker, Minister, Members of the Assembly, Ladies and Gentlemen, first let me begin by saying how honoured and chuffed I am to be here.
I loved my time here and always wanted to return.
It was Harry Truman, who advised “If you want a friend in politics get yourself a dog.”
And some of you may be disappointed, or perhaps - depending on your own memories of meeting them - a little relieved to see I’m not joined tonight by Bobby and Jack, the two dogs that accompanied me for so much of my time here as Secretary of State.
It’s been a day filled with former colleagues, old friends and familiar places. And most importantly, I’ve had chance to see for myself the progress made in Northern Ireland since I was last here.
We all of us played some part in making that happen. But above all else, these positive changes are down to the hope and determination of the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians to achieve a peaceful, more prosperous future
And having heard today about some of the challenges still ahead, I know, that same spirit and perseverance will get you through these difficult times even stronger than before.
It’s no exaggeration to say we’re in the midst of the biggest global financial crisis for generations.
Here in Northern Ireland, as across the world, businesses are struggling to get the credit they need. Demand and production are falling. Jobs are threatened.
Tonight, I want to talk about the action we’re taking in response.
We need to be bold. We need to be decisive. We need to act together. We need to see the whole picture.
The UK Government is committed to working with Northern Ireland Ministers to help tackle this crisis. Ensuring your views are represented, and the solutions put forward by Government and the Northern Ireland Executive can together make a genuine difference.
Crucial to our work together is the input of organisations like the Northern Ireland Assembly Business Trust and the other business bodies represented here tonight. We will continue to listen, and do all we can to help you survive this crisis today and succeed tomorrow.
First, when the banking system fails, everyone suffers.
Strong economies depend on stable banks. Last year, the Government acted swiftly to prevent the collapse of the UK banking system. If we hadn’t, more good businesses would have gone to the wall, more jobs would have been lost and millions of people’s savings threatened.
Our further latest banking measures aim to get this essential credit flowing again.
Similar action is being taken in the US, in Europe and across the world, as countries work to stabilise their own banking systems.
And we’ve secured £1 billion of extra lending capacity for UK SMEs from the European Investment Bank. Liquidity that we’re working to ensure is passed onto small businesses as soon as possible.
Such international cooperation is essential to address both the causes and effects of this global crisis. At its root is the need to ensure standards and governance fit for the modern world economy.
It’s a tall order. But it’s what the UK, as chair of the G20 in 2009, aims to achieve at the London Summit in April.
Real help for business.
There are no quick fixes.
But by acting together, we maximise the benefits of each set of national measures in our economies.
And support the action we’ve already taken at home to tackle the cash-flow, credit and capital issues of business.
That means here in Northern Ireland, a viable SME with high levels of existing business debt can raise equity finance through the new £75 million Capital for Enterprise Fund.
A small, credit-worthy company finding it difficult to get commercial finance in the current climate can get a loan of £1,000 to £1 million from their bank thanks to a government guarantee for 75% of the loan value, under the Enterprise Financial Guarantee Scheme.
And we’re increasing the availability of lending through mainstream institutions by sharing risk with these lenders for portfolios of lending to companies with turnover of up to £500 million - opening up to £20 billion of credit lines.
We’re already working closely with the Northern Bank, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland to secure access to this finance for their customers. I encourage more Northern Ireland lending institutions to get involved.
I also welcome the Ulster Bank’s announcement yesterday of a new £250 million Regional fund to support SMEs in Northern Ireland.
This is a step forward. And it is important employees at all these banks - from the board to branch counter - are fully aware and can brief businesses on the support available to them.
This is real help for those businesses that need it most.
But it’s also important that we bring forward, and remain focused on the investments critical to our long-term economic future.
We know that in the months and years that follow this crisis, we must build a more balanced UK economy - one where, innovation and careers in the lab or workshop are as valued as those on the financial trading room floor. Where we put as much effort and investment in real engineering as financial engineering.
We’re at the start of a 21st century industrial revolution, where countries will increasingly compete on the value of their ideas and expertise in low carbon technologies, digital communications and hi-tech manufacturing.
It is enterprising people, innovative companies and open, well-regulated markets that will ultimately drive the UK’s success in this new world. But to do so, they need the support of policies and incentives that provide the high-level capability we need.
That calls for a smarter, more strategic approach to industrial policy in Government. Not just across Whitehall, but in our work with the devolved administrations, local authorities, RDAs and other partners to shape the UK’s enterprise environment.
The activism, I propose, isn’t about a return to the old-style of state intervention that in the past stifled enterprise and innovation. But about developing a more stable policy framework, within which companies can work effectively to create the jobs, technologies and businesses of the future.
It’s a space in which, Northern Ireland - with its strong tradition of engineering excellence and skilled population - could thrive.
We’re already seeing hi-tech businesses based here - such as BTI Systems, Fujitsu, Singularity and Alpha Environmental Systems based here - investing to seize these opportunities.
We need to ensure more companies can start building these bridges to the future.
Keeping global trade open, and realising the massive export potential for British expertise in the growing hi-tech sectors of China, India and other emerging economies.
To fail to act, or just stand back would turn this crisis into something longer, deeper and more painful.
It would result in lost opportunities for those regions, businesses and people with the very ideas and skills to prosper from them most.
The road to recovery, although rocky, is clear.
Ensure a financial system built to reflect the lessons of the last twelve months and equipped for the realities of a modern, global economy.
Maintain stability, and act now to support our economy, UK businesses and families through this downturn.
And work smarter together, to lay the foundations for our success in the decades beyond this crisis.
That is our focus. And the UK Government is committed to do everything it can to work with Northern Ireland Ministers and others to give you the help you need, now and in the future.