The Conservatives have proved that the economy can benefit from going green
A Conference is always an exhausting experience! But it’s also great fun – my mum has always come with me, ever since I was a new candidate for the party, and in recent years, my sister, husband, eldest son and many of his friends all come along too, which gives us a great chance to catch up and for me to spend time with the many young Conservatives.
This year’s conference has a particular resonance for me, as I have a great opportunity to put forward my priorities as the new business secretary. I was delighted to be offered the role in the summer – after 25 years in the City, becoming the Government’s lead minister supporting our country’s thriving and innovative economy is a great privilege, and my previous experiences as environment secretary and energy minister impressed upon me the urgent need to address climate change.
The latter brings me straight in to one of my three priorities for this role: net zero. I’m proud that we have committed to end our contribution to global warming entirely and to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We have gone further and faster than any other G7 country in doing so, and being nominated by our UN Group to host the crucial COP26 talks next year is an endorsement of our leadership so far.
But there is more to do, and an abundance of opportunities when it comes to addressing climate change. The Conservatives have proved that the economy can benefit from going green – we’ve nearly halved emissions since 1990, while growing the economy by more than two-thirds.
There are opportunities both economically and environmentally in new nuclear, in carbon capture usage and storage, and in decarbonising our transport system. In the future, we could earn up to £170bn a year from exporting low carbon innovation, and by 2030 a third of our electricity will be generated by the offshore wind sector. I visited such a wind farm in Aberdeen recently, and was very impressed that just one turn of one wind turbine could power the average UK home for 24 hours.
In fact, our renewables sector is a true British success story, which will continue to thrive after we leave the EU. Over the last five years, investment in renewables has more than doubled, while the low carbon sector grew four times faster than the wider economy.
And that brings me on to another ambition: seizing the fantastic opportunities that await us when we leave the EU and become a more global-facing, free-trading nation. The UK has long been recognised as a science superpower – but we want to remain world-leading in new and emerging economic opportunities.
I want to build on our world-leading position by driving up productivity to create even more jobs, growth and opportunity across all four corners of the UK.
That’s why our modern Industrial Strategy leads with grand challenges in areas such as space, artificial intelligence and healthcare. We are working to support healthy ageing, with the aim of giving every one of us an extra five years of healthy, independent life by 2025.
To this end, we’ve recently announced £133m of investment on life-changing treatments and gene-based therapies for conditions including arthritis, cancer and dementia.
We’ve also announced our creation of a £200m project to examine and sequence the genetic code of 500,000 volunteers at the UK Biobank – one of the world’s most ambitious gene sequencing programmes ever. This genetic research will result in faster prevention, identification and treatment of some of the world’s most terrible diseases such as cancer, dementia and Parkinson’s.
This Conservative Government is also taking advantage of the opportunities provided by electric vehicles – which is why we recently announced £400m to develop rapid charging infrastructure points for electric vehicles, together with the Department for Transport.
Finally, a key ambition for me in this new job is that I want to make Britain the best place in the world to work and to live: ensuring that businesses are treating their workers fairly. I want to ensure that parents are enabled to spend time with their young children; to stop employers discriminating against their employees; and to put legislation in place to make it crystal clear to employees what their rights are.
We’ve already made steps to this end, too. In the Spending Review, the chancellor announced additional budget to enforce the minimum wage and proactively protect those most vulnerable of being underpaid. Our Good Work Plan offers the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights for a generation – including new rights for workers to receive a payslip and further protections for employees against exploitative or negligent employers.
Being business secretary provides me with the opportunity to, together with an amazing team, realise some of these ambitions and benefit the country in doing so.