Tuesday 18th September 2012
By Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister
I’m sure in years to come we’ll look back at the summer of 2012 with very fond memories, indeed. It started with a bang: an extra long bank holiday in June to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. That was quickly followed by weeks of breathtaking sporting action during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The golden performance of our athletes and the contribution of thousands of volunteers made for the best Olympics in living memory.
As we move into the Autumn, the question is: how do we retain that sense of optimism? Recent months have been a welcome reminder that Britain is an open nation, filled with great talent and ability. With the country continuing to face serious challenges – not least in our economy – we must draw on those characteristics to propel ourselves onto more prosperous times.
That mission – rescuing, repairing, and reforming our economy – is what brought the Coalition together. It’s why the Liberal Democrats entered Government with the Conservatives and it remains our priority. Before the election, there were varying degrees of hysteria surrounding the prospect of a hung Parliament. Yet we have confounded the naysayers, proving that Coalitions can provide stable and decisive government and we’ve taken the difficult but necessary decisions to get the public finances in order.
Of course, deficit reduction is only a means to an end – and the end we all seek is growth. The situation around us has deteriorated in light of continuing turmoil in the Eurozone. But that is only steeling our resolve – driving a renewed focus on measures to help jobs throughout the Autumn.
And just as the Liberal Democrats are galvanised around economic reform, we are also determined to deliver social renewal. We don’t just want Britain to emerge from our troubles with a stronger economy. Our vision is for a fairer, more open society, where people who work hard can get ahead.
Not least through the tax system. The slogan for our Conference in Brighton this year is “fairer tax in tough times.” The Liberal Democrats set out – on the front page of our manifesto – our commitment to cutting taxes for ordinary people. We have done so in every Budget while we’ve been in Government. By April next year, we will have lifted two million of the lowest paid out of paying Income Tax altogether and we will have put £550 back in the pocket of over twenty million basic rate tax payers. And we’re not done yet – by the time we are finished, no one will pay tax on the first £10,000 they earn. In the longer term, it is our party policy that no one should pay tax until they are earning above the minimum wage.
Alongside tax, there are three other big areas the party will be focusing on during our Conference.
The first, of course, is jobs. It’s our priority because it’s the country’s priority. Our £1 billion Youth Contract is giving every jobless youngster the chance to earn or learn; our £2.4 billion Regional Growth Fund is helping businesses in areas previously over-dependent on the public sector; and we have created a record number of apprenticeships too.
The second is the environment – because greening our economy and conserving precious resources is the route to lasting prosperity. Later this year, the Green Deal will start to begin saving people money on their energy bills, cutting carbon emissions, and it will create thousands of green jobs. Our Green Investment Bank – a global first – will also help Britain become a world leader in green technology and unlock £18 billion of investment.
The third is education. That’s why, even with money as tight as it is, we have committed an extra £2.5bn for our Pupil Premium (also on the front page of our manifesto) to stop struggling children from falling behind and help the whole class move ahead. And we’re extending free child care for disadvantaged two-year-olds – providing support in the early years when children need it most.
If you were to choose the circumstances in which to come into Government for the first time in 70 years, you would not choose these. Britain faces an unparalleled set of challenges. But, halfway in, and the Liberal Democrats have proven ourselves to be a competent and capable party of government. We are proud of our record, and during our Conference we will be holding our heads high. And, even more importantly, we’ll be looking to the future, too.