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Rt Hon Priti Patel, MP, Minister of State for Employment of the UK speech - Welcoming the Chief Minister of West Bengal to London

On behalf of the Prime Minister and my colleagues in the British Government, it is a great pleasure to welcome the Honourable Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and her distinguished delegation to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and to the United Kingdom.

This is a landmark visit. A visit which brings greater strength to existing friendships, provides an opportunity to build new ones and brings greater focus on doing business to drive prosperity in both our countries. Our collective aim is to forge partnerships between our people and our institutions that will improve the lives of all our citizens.

I had the honour of meeting the Chief Minister in November 2013 when I accompanied our Prime Minister, David Cameron, on his short visit to the great city of Kolkata. That was his third visit to India as Prime Minister – a remarkable sign of his personal commitment to strengthening the partnership between our two countries – but it was his first visit to Kolkata. In fact it was the first visit to Kolkata by a British Prime Minister in over sixteen years.

That long gap is regrettable but perhaps not surprising.

For 34 years, West Bengal languished under communist rule. The state had tremendous potential –a wealth of natural resources; a creative and highly educated workforce; a hugely strategic geographic location – but that potential remained unfulfilled. Although the connections between the UK and West Bengal were historic, there were few opportunities to renew and revitalise them for future generations.

I’m delighted to say that things are changing fast. Today, West Bengal is on the move. Under Mamata Banerjee’s leadership the state is enjoying a renaissance and its potential is beginning to be realised.

That is why the Prime Minister visited Kolkata two years ago. He knew that exciting things were happening there. He wanted to meet the Chief Minister and hear from her personally about the ambitious agenda she was pursuing. He wanted to learn about how she was tackling corruption, eliminating labour disputes, and improving the business climate. About how she had increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the state administration. About how she had transformed the life chances of millions of young girls through her internationally acclaimed Kanyashree scheme.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister was impressed. It was clear to him this was a state – and a Chief Minister – that we could do business with. That’s why he invited you, Honourable Chief Minister, to visit London and why we’re so delighted and honoured that you accepted our invitation.

Chief Minister, your visit gives us an opportunity to showcase the strength and diversity of our partnership. It is a partnership which has grown significantly since our visit to Kolkata.

A large number of British businesses, many of them present here today, have found new opportunities to bring their world-class products and services to a growing market in West Bengal. Others have chosen Kolkata as the base for their India operations.

At the same time, Kolkata-based businesses people, some today, have increased and diversified their investments in the United Kingdom- ensuring that India continues to invest more in the United Kingdom that it does in the rest of the European Union combined. Investors from West Bengal are ingrained upon British society, whether in traditional or more innovative sectors. Big brand names such as Apeejay Group, who own Typhoo Tea, and Tata Tea, who own Tetley Tea, help thousands of Brits to enjoy a cuppa daily. ITC Infotech was amongst first Indian IT companies opening up an office in the UK and helping to provide Brits with IT solutions fit for the 21st century.

And UK and West Bengal universities and institutions have forged new collaborations in the fields of public health, the arts and urban development. And our governments are working together to share best practice on improving the business climate and on making it easier for companies to do business between the UK and West Bengal.

All of this activity drives prosperity and increases quality of life for our citizens. I’m delighted that today, no fewer than 21 Memoranda of Understanding have been signed that signal even more exciting new collaborations for the future. These MoUs will help to bring the UK and West Bengal ever closer, and unleash the potential of our relationship.

Chief Minister, you told our Prime Minister that you wanted to make Kolkata more like London. We are certainly proud of London’s position as a global hub. But Kolkata too is a great city in its own right. The parallels between these two metropolises are clear: two great trading hubs, drawing life from the rivers on which they sit; once twin-cities of empire, firmly anchored in their rich history but constantly reinventing themselves to meet the challenges of a new era.

We are delighted to share some of our expertise and experience - the things we’ve got right as well as the things we could have done better – to help Kolkata continue fulfil its huge potential.

Since the Prime Minister’s visit to Kolkata, we have developed a £1million technical assistance programme in which British experts are helping Kolkata ensure its future growth is both low-carbon and climate resilient. By putting in place things like rooftop solar; energy efficient street lighting; green building guidelines; and a comprehensive disaster management plan, I’m proud that we are playing a small part in helping Kolkata prepare for the future, whatever it may bring.

As Kolkata makes great strides towards the future, I hope it will not lose sight of its past. I was struck, during my visit to the city, by the extraordinary built heritage the city has. Beautiful public buildings that bear testament to the history not just of Bengal but of India and of India’s place in the world. Restored and given new life, Kolkata’s urban treasures could be a great driver of prosperity. Kolkata can and should become a World Heritage City.

I hope, Chief Minister, that you have time this week to see some of the work we have done in London to preserve our own heritage and put it at the heart of the cultural and commercial life of our city. That blending of the old and the new is a key part of London’s character. I know there are a number of UK experts and architects, some of them here today, who could help you do the same in Kolkata. UK companies are already engaged in the East-West metro railway project in Kolkata, and in the modernisation of Kolkata Airport. I would like to see further infrastructure and architecture collaboration become a major area of collaboration in the future.

And in considering the future, we must not forget the young people of West Bengal, who we hope will both benefit from the legacy of UK-India relations, and continue to develop links between the UK and West Bengal. That is why on education, we continue to forge links with West Bengal, and why the British Council has been successful in partnering and collaborating with eastern Indian companies and institutions.

This is an important time in the UK-India relationship. We want a stronger, wider, deeper partnership with India. The UK is a major partner of India – and we are excited about its development, its dynamism, its potential and its renewed growth trajectory.

I want to see the UK’s partnership with West Bengal grow as an essential element of that wider relationship with India. The potential is enormous. I am confident that this visit will transform the way we work together.

The Bengal of today is a fundamentally different place to the Bengal of five years ago. I have no doubt that even greater transformation lies ahead. The story of the New Bengal is a remarkable one. But it is only just beginning.

Honourable Chief Minister, as that story unfolds please know that the Government and people of the United Kingdom are your friends and your partners. We stand shoulder to shoulder with you, as we believe that there is a great deal we can achieve through that partnership. I know that you share that view.

The ties between the United Kingdom and Bengal run deep. We must celebrate that. But we must also work together to renew and reinvigorate them so that they don’t just reflect our shared history, they shape our shared future as well.

So let me again extend my warmest welcome to you, Honourable Chief Minister, and wish you the very best of success for your visit to London.

Jul 29, 2015
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