I can tell you, I’ve been to a few factories. I’ve been to a few car manufacturing plants in my time. I’ve never been to anything quite like this – it really is inspiring what you do. And I can tell you about those £50 notes that Ron spoke about as well. The good news is that the Governor of the Bank of England very kindly sent me the third off the production line. I think the Queen got the first one, the Duke of Edinburgh got the second, I got number three. I know the Chancellor wants me to spend it, but I think I’m going to keep hold of it…
But thank you for what you said and thank you for your hospitality today.
What Ron said is incredibly important, because we all want this to be a country where we’re respected once again for what we make as well as the services and finance we provide – vital though they are. And there are people out there who say that can’t happen because the base has gone – the skills aren’t there; Britain doesn’t make enough things any more upon which to build. And so they conclude that our glory days of science, engineering and manufacturing are behind us, and that from now on it’s going to be about buying from the world rather than selling to the world.
What McLaren does here in Woking is a powerful rebuke to that view.
And one of the things that has so impressed me today is it’s not just about the extraordinary Formula 1 cars that you make or, indeed, the incredible new cars we’ve just been looking at, it’s the technology, it’s the invention, its the patents, it’s all of that innovation that is going to lead to so many other great businesses in the future.
Yes, McLaren are building some of the most advanced desirable sports cars for the consumer market; yes, they are breaking that ground in the electronic systems and software that Ron just spoke about, and they are engineering the most complex machines for Formula 1. So I want to concentrate on why I admire what McLaren are doing, why it matters to our economy and why the Government should back up the call that McLaren have given .
First of all I do admire what you do here at McLaren. There is something that doesn’t get said often enough which is that Formula 1 is an incredible British success story: every time Lewis or Jenson blast away from the starting grid they are doing so in cars built right here in Britain. Perhaps this is a point I’ll make to Chancellor Merkel when I see her tomorrow, who knows? Something to break the ice!
Ron made the point that it doesn’t get any more high-end than this: tens of thousands of components; aerodynamics that defy belief; new part for the car designed every 20 minutes across the season. That’s how fast the innovation is.
It’s engineering so groundbreaking that when space scientists are looking for ideas they come to the brains of Formula 1. You remember Beagle 2? It was cased in a lightweight plastic first developed for Formula 1 exhaust systems. Formula 1 technology is everywhere: dining tables, even in the soles of our wellington boots – and it’s not just the materials being adapted. Great Ormond Street saw how efficiently car wheels were changed in the pits so they worked with Formula 1 experts to streamline the transfer of patients into intensive care.
As I say what you do here has so many applications. So I think we can be proud that British engineering is not just dominating Formula 1, but actually changing the world – and I think we should be proud too of what is happening in the wider car and automotive industry.
Obviously we’ve just seen this state-of-the-art production centre where, in the coming year, hundreds of gleaming MP4 12Cs are going to roll off this extraordinary production line but actually this is the high end of what’s happening more broadly in the British car industry.
Nissan are choosing design and make the next generation Qashqai here in the UK. That will be followed by the electric Leaf. Honda is confirming the Civic and the CRV to be reproduced in the UK and they are bringing on masses of their component manufacture here. In the UK, too, BMW is investing more than £500m. Then the great success story of Jaguar Land Rover; just last week they announced another thousand jobs in Solihull so the sector is actually going from strength to strength.
Why does all this matter? The obvious answer is wealth and jobs are being created. As I said when I came to office, it’s not just the size of the economy that matters, it’s the shape: less debt, less dependence on finance and housing booms.
In 2002, car demand in China was for 1 million units. Less than a decade later, it’s 14 million units. And when you look at how many people are joining the middle class every year in China that figure is only going to go up and go up exponentially, so there is so much wealth to be tapped into; there is more opportunity for high skilled jobs so people can learn a trade and have fulfilling careers. The new dynamic we want to build up must be one that lifts people up.
Now, the people who are going to get us here are the ones I met today over at the new McLaren Production Centre. But they also need a government that backs manufacturing and that is what we’re doing: we’re investing in science – we have not cut the science budget; we’ve had to cut many budgets, but that budget has been protected – so we’ve created technology and innovation centres to get ideas into production.
Bentley, Pirelli tyres, Lotus cars, JCB – they are all into manufacturing. This morning we launched the Queen Elizabeth prize for engineering, it is a million pound competition to drive up the esteem of engineering and I hope it will have the same effect in raising the profile of engineering and the profile of Britain as the Nobel peace price does for Norway.
I think it’s a major new effort and I’m delighted the Queen has put her name to it. This morning I met people here as start of the See Inside manufacturing campaign and it really does get people thinking about the future. Today we have a new announcement about apprenticeships that I want to share with you.
As you already know, around 360,000 apprenticeships start every year – although actually in the past year we did over 440,000 – but this isn’t really a numbers game – we want apprenticeships to be meaningful and work better for business. That is why we are trying out a radical new approach to funding them in the new year: 50 million in the first year and as much as 200 million in the year after that.
This will put the money for training directly into employers’ hands. I think this is vitally important, lots of employers say to me: I want to do apprenticeships but there’s too much bureaucracy. We’re basically saying the money is there, establish your own schemes and we will fund you. We think this is a really radical move, it’s about putting business in the driving seat it will make it much more attractive for you to take apprentices on and it will help ultimately to rebalance our economy.
Let me finish by saying this. This is a tough time for Europe, this is a tough time for our economy – and I don’t for one second under-estimate the difficulties ahead of us, but, at the same time we have to be alive to the hope that is out there.
I’ve spoken about the growing strength of our car industry, the genius of our engineers – all those things today – and it’s visits to places like this that make me optimistic about the future – even in the difficult times we race this country has the talent, the ideas, the expertise to create and to sell more to the rest of the world, it has a government that is determined to capitalise on the opportunities out there, determined to invest in entrepreneurship and in success.
So what I want to say to you today is I am confident with all the difficulties we face. We can ride out the storm that is taking place in Europe and, over time, we can come through it in a way that is much stronger: showing the world that Britain is back making things and back open for business.