On a recent trip to the USA, I took a detour to the heart of rustbelt America to see how the great cities of Cleveland and Detroit are reinventing themselves after decades of industrial decline.
From scoffing pancakes in a classic American diner to seeing the latest technology on display at the world-famous Ford factory, I felt like I saw all sides of the Midwest.
And what I saw was hugely exciting. For too long written off, Cleveland and Detroit are surging back, fuelled by a new generation of young entrepreneurs with the optimism of a place that’s on the brink of a boom.
Unlike the overpriced coasts, property prices in Midwest towns are cheap, with housing costs up to 60 per cent lower than somewhere like Silicon Valley. Combined with flexible planning rules, it means firms can avoid soaring property prices, afford to hire more people and invest more in their training. Big companies like Google are now relocating whole divisions to these cities, fuelling a market-led economic resurgence which is providing new opportunities for local graduates.
Cleveland and Detroit are examples of how giving people freedom to invest and build is the key to regenerating regions affected by industrial decline. Having a dynamic economy brings opportunities to those regions, but also drives national economic growth as new firms and districts challenge stuffy incumbents and attract more people and investment.
Those regional differences are not a million miles away from ours here at home, where areas like Middlesbrough and Birmingham are challenging London with lower property prices and new, innovative firms.
It’s driven by great local leadership – like Ben Houchen in Teesside and Andy Street in the West Midlands – but also by the government’s willingness to open up those opportunities.
That’s why this government has done so much to reform the planning system which restricts growth, and we’re always interested in looking at new ways to free up development. If planning regulations restrict the ability of areas like Teesside to grow, we can’t take the opportunities that give people better jobs and living standards.
It’s why we’re looking at how our utilities are regulated, to make sure trains, broadband and energy are competitive, giving firms and families lower prices and better services.
And it’s why we’re ensuring the UK is the number one place to do business which attracts talent and investment from all over the world.
Recent regulatory reform in the USA means that, at the end of 2017, regulation was not cited as the top cost pressure for the first time in six years. Regulation should be well-designed and proportionate, and there should be a high bar for new regulations that constrain business.
The UK government has been ahead of the game since 2010. Britain is one of the most open-for-business countries in the developed world, and we have created countless jobs and opportunities which would not have come under an anti-business Labour government.
Labour will never understand this. They want high taxes, more debt, and the economy managed from a central committee in government. Their overregulation would suffocate the small businesses which challenge the big corporations and improve all our lives. Just as their high-welfare policies trap people in poverty rather than lifting them out, Labour’s state-on-steroids would trap regions like Middlesbrough on government subsidies, rather than giving them the liberation to succeed.
But being competitive isn’t about compromising our standards or values. The free market is the greatest engine of opportunity and social mobility ever created. It leads to a leaner, more competitive economy which allocates resources well, delivers more, higher paid jobs, and creates more tax revenue to spend on infrastructure, skills and services like the NHS.
Giving our economy the freedom to grow is the recipe for success – from Cleveland, Ohio to Cleveland, Teesside. Only by doing so will we allow opportunity to spread to new areas, greeted by a new generation of people brimming with potential.