The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at the UK Quality Awards – 30 November 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the UK Quality Awards on Wednesday 30th November 1994.



In the midst of an otherwise dull week, I have been looking forward to this occasion. When I sat there listening to the names of the winners, it occurred to me that I could perhaps have used some TNT a little earlier this week. It might perhaps have encouraged the odd rover. I wonder if ICI could provide some explosives?

I realise firstly that I am probably the last impediment between you and dinner and I will bear that in mind. But I believe this is an important occasion. I am delighted to be here as I know Michael Heseltine is and there are a few things I wish to say about British business and about quality. When Michael and I launched the Competitiveness White Paper last May, we had three significant messages. The first was that we live, in business terms, in a cut throat world. The second was that Britain’s best companies are literally the best in the world. And the third was that notwithstanding that, in order to maintain that position for some and gain it for others, we needed to raise our standard right across the board. The message is quite clear and it is quite unequivocal. Quality matters. It matters in an increasingly discriminating world. It matters for the pride of what we sell at home and what we export abroad. And it matters perhaps at the very realms of self-interest, because unless you provide quality you are very unlikely to provide and receive the return orders that all of us would wish to see this country obtain. That’s why it matters.

Michael and I have both led trade missions abroad on a number of occasions in the last year. We have done so because we are proud of what this country produces. We have done so because we are sick and tired of some people who fail to realise how good so much of this country is and are forever running it down. We find, going abroad, there is a ready message and there are ready ears abroad to hear that message about the quality of British business; about the innovation of British business, and about the fact that British business now does deliver on time and does deliver a quality that is the equal of anyone in the world. That is why we’ve taken those trade missions abroad and that is why in the years to come we look forward to taking many more trade missions for exactly the same reason.

Mr President, the British Quality Foundation has set itself to achieve higher quality across commerce and industry. You have essentially raised a flag of excellence with the UK Quality Award and I think the sheer size of tonight’s audience shows how many companies have responded to that challenge – how many companies themselves have sufficient pride in their own performance to realise that it is important to produce quality and important to compete in order to win the prizes that the best of quality now has available. I very warmly congratulate both the winners and those who came so close to winning on this occasion.

Rover of course is one of the main companies that the Conservative Government has returned to private ownership. And tonight’s video shown a few moments ago showed precisely what they’d made of that opportunity. It isn’t all that long ago when you could have looked back at the British motor industry, looked back particularly at what is now Rover and seen what looked very much at that time, like a basket case of a company and a basket case of an industry. Anyone who went this year to the Motor Show would see what an absolute revolution has been achieved at Rover and elsewhere across the British motor industry. I believe what Rover had to say in their video about their quality and about their service is justifiable and I offer to them my very warmest congratulations for what they have managed to achieve. TNT Express as well are a success story of the very first order. A success story in the service sector, delivering a huge range of transport services, carrying almost everything from newspapers upwards. My only regret is, that not only carrying the newspapers, so dedicated are they, I’m afraid they also deliver them. With that single reservation, I offer them my warmest congratulations.

But although their senior executives are here tonight to collect the prizes, I know they won’t mind my saying, that it isn’t just the chief executives on the boards, it’s the workers in Rover and TNT Express upon whom the companies success most depends. It is the shareholders, who work hard, who apply the crucial tests of profitability and performance and also the customers, who have applied the crucial tests of quality and value for money. Rover and TNT have met those tests.

Tonight’s award gives other companies, not least small and growing companies, clear examples to emulate in the future. Every British company needs to measure up to the best if we are to succeed against hungry competitors in an increasingly open and competitive world market. There are no easy markets these days. No captive markets who will instinctively look to us because they have always looked to us. It is a much more competitive world out there this year than last year and it will be a yet more competitive world next year. And so the prime responsibility is going to be yours. Individual companies, individual businessmen and businesswomen. That is not to say that the Government themselves do not have a role to play, for I believe myself that they do. I believe the policies that are necessary for us to follow, are the policies that provide the framework within which British industry can succeed at home and sell successfully abroad. The fundamental issue, the fundamental responsibility of the Government is to provide the right sort of framework and the right sort of policies to business.

On Monday of this week we voted on the European Finance Bill. I just wish to say to you this evening, I intend to continue to fight for the right sort of Europe. A genuine single market. One with flexible employment policies. The minimum of regulation and free trade with the rest of the world. And what I regret, is the extent to which the European argument – so vital to your success as business in this country and the employment prospects for all our nations – so much of this argument is carried on in extremes. In order to have any convictions on Europe, some people seem to think you have to be an extreme Euro-Federalist on one side or an extreme Euro-Sceptic on the other. Well I have to say to you, I fit in neither of those categories and neither in my judgement, do 95 per cent of the British nation. They know that the right sort of policies are that we have to be part of Europe, we have to be a leading part of Europe and we have to make a pragmatic and practical examination of what is right for this country and fight for those policies within the European Union. That, I promise you, is what the Government intends to do.

Yesterday the Chancellor produced his Budget and here again it was the needs of business that were at the forefront of his mind. The overriding need to keep public spending and inflation down. To provide extra help for exporters and I know how hard the President of the Board of Trade has fought for those improvements. Measures to help unemployed people back to work and to reduce employers national insurance contributions for lower paid jobs.

It is nearly two years ago since I first spoke about the need for work incentives in a speech at the Carlton Club. As is evident to anyone who heard the Budget speech yesterday, we are now putting our principles into practice. The Chancellor also introduced special measures for small businesses including new venture capital trusts. I believe the fruits of many of the difficult and, frankly, unpopular decisions that we have had to take in recent years are now beginning to show through. The whole economy has grown in the last twelve months, much faster than forecast – over 4 per cent, a touch over 4 per cent in the last year. Inflation is at the lowest for a generation and there are very few people in this room who could last remember when growth was double the underlying rate of inflation as it is at present. We’ve seen manufacturing output rise by 5 per cent and productivity rise by 6 per cent. Exports month after month seem to exceed the record figures of the month before and have risen by 12 per cent. Unemployment has now fallen by getting on to nearly half a million.

The recovery that we are seeing in this country is unmatched elsewhere in Europe. Other things that many of the cynics forecast have not come about. It was said when we moved back into recovery that we’d have a widening balance of payments problem. Self-evidently we haven’t. That inflation would take off. Self-evidently it hasn’t. That after sterling devalued as we came out of the exchange rate mechanism, it would feed straight through the wages and we’d lose our competitive position. Self-evidently it hasn’t.

I spoke some time ago to some German businessmen and they said “I hope you British realise where you are at the moment. You are at the moment the most competitive nation in Western Europe”. And that I believe is true and what I would wish to see is to see us remain the most competitive nation in Western Europe. I don’t wish to see inflation low for a short term. I wish to see if we can break the inflationary psychology that time after time after time has wrecked recovery in this country, and break it for good. That does mean no dash for growth policies as the Chancellor says. It does mean no reckless manipulation of fiscal policy. It does mean that we will continue to pursue the policies that are right for the medium and the long term to retain a position in which we have an economy with sustainable growth and low inflation.

When I first went to the Treasury as Chancellor in 1989, one of the first things said to me repeatedly by businessmen was “we don’t want a lot from the Government, just give us a stable framework and remove regulation from us and let us do the job that we wish to do on behalf of our companies and on behalf of our country”. That I believe is what we are now achieving. We now have the fastest growth of all the major economies in Europe. This provides huge opportunities for British business provided British business stays competitive. What we must ensure is that we don’t casually, either we the Government or you industry and commerce, throw away the advantage that has been so hard won over recent years. I know the seductive voices about the feel good factor. Well I confess to you, in the privacy of this meeting, that I have a certain reservation about what people call the feel good factor. My observation over years has been that the feel good factor is often the prelude to a rather bad hangover. And people do feel good when more money is going in their pockets than productivity might perhaps merit. They do feel good is they’ve suddenly seen their neighbour’s house sold for £20,000 more than they thought it was worth. But those are the sort of factors that almost inevitably lead in the short term to economic difficulties. I want a feel right factor rather than a feel good factor. It is towards that aim that we are conducting economic policy at present.

Mr President, the UK Quality Award has put the spotlight this year on two quite outstanding companies. I am delighted that next year public sector bodies will be able to compete as well as the private sector. All round quality is necessary in the public sector as in the private sector and I am determined that that also will be delivered. Britain’s success, her long term success, the pride that British industry now has in itself, can be maintained and should be maintained. But it does depend upon excellence in both the public and the private sector alike. So let me just conclude with a message I think is self-evidently true and that businessmen will recognise as being so. Let us be blunt. Winning is the name of the game in this hugely competitive world. I wish to see this country win. I wish to see British companies win. I know they will do so if they produce a quality that is the equal of any other in the world, as increasingly they are beginning to do.

This award will add to the impetus to provide that quality and I warmly welcome it. I add yet again, my congratulations to those who won and look forward to seeing many more winners of the UK Quality Award in future years. Perhaps they are here. I hope, certainly, many people here will apply for this next year. It is worth winning. It has been won by two great exemplars of British industry. I wish all of you the best of good fortune in following their success in the future.