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Economic Performance

Volume 565: debated on Wednesday 26 June 2013

Against a tough economic backdrop of the deficit we inherited from the previous Government and the crisis in the eurozone, we are taking the measures necessary to create a rebalanced economy with sustainable public finances.

The Scottish economy needs people in work, but last year the Government supported the closure of the Remploy factor in Wishaw, and since then, nearly a year later, very few of those disabled workers have found a full-time job. How does that help the economy?

I recognise the issue the hon. Gentleman raises on his constituents’ behalf, and others have done similar. I am very happy to meet him to discuss it further if he wishes. However, we want to ensure that we have an arrangement that helps those with disabilities, and others, to get into the workplace in a sustainable manner. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. The House must and will hear Mr Alan Reid.

Superfast broadband is very important for the economy of rural areas. The Government’s target is 90% coverage by 2015, but in the highlands and islands, Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s target is only 75% coverage in each local authority area by December 2016. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can get this target up to something comparable to the rest of the country?

My hon. Friend is right to champion this cause, and it is very important indeed that we get superfast broadband as far across the UK as possible, and particularly in the highlands and islands. However, he might wish to wait for further announcements from the Government in the next day or so.

As part of the “project fear” tactics, there has been a ridiculous level of scaremongering in relation to inward investment, whereas in fact, Scottish Development International and the Scottish Government have helped to deliver a 15-year high in investment levels. Will the Secretary of State apologise for the scaremongering tactics of “project fear” that he is a part of?

The hon. Gentleman needs to relax a bit and address this issue sensibly. He surely recognises that that record investment comes on the back of a United Kingdom economic framework that is supportive to businesses wherever they locate in the United Kingdom, and through which businesses can get access to the whole of the United Kingdom economy, without any false barriers created by him and his friends.

But the failing austerity policies of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government are not delivering the growth we require in Scotland or in the UK. However, will he take the opportunity to welcome the help and support he is getting as part of the “project fear” campaign by those who agree with the austerity course, who will agree with the Conservative spending caps that have been announced, and who now agree with bedroom tax: namely—

That is another neat diversion by the hon. Gentleman, but he cannot avoid the fact that he and his colleagues have no answers on the central questions of Scotland’s economy: what currency it will have, how the banks and others will be regulated, how trade will work across the United Kingdom. On every single important question, there are no answers from the SNP. It will not be listened to until those answers come.

Later today, the House will debate the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this project will assist Scotland’s long-term economic growth?

My hon. Friend is right: this is absolutely key to the whole of the UK’s economy, and I look forward to the benefits being enjoyed by all parts of Britain—north and south.

This Government have delivered just one fifth of the promised growth since 2010. Is the Secretary of State also aware that the working-age employment rate in Scotland has fallen by 2% from five years ago, leaving a jobs gap for Scotland of more than 71,000? Does that not make the case for a jobs guarantee now to get Scotland’s young and long-term jobless people back into work, generate more tax revenues and help cut the deficit, which rose, not fell, last year under this incompetent Government?

The hon. Gentleman should perhaps practise his questions a little more. Yet again, there is denial from him and his colleagues of the good progress we have been making on unemployment, and I hope he recognises that. It is absolutely essential that we take the measures to support people into work, which we are doing with the Work programme and the Youth Contract, and we will be making work pay with universal credit. He can shake his head, but he needs to get with the reality.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that connectivity through regional air hubs to international hubs is vital to the performance of the Scottish economy? What can the Government do to assist in maintaining those links, particularly at Inverness and to the highlands?

My hon. Friend is a real champion of those vital air links to the north and to the far north, which he represents. I know that he has been making strong representations recently, and we would be happy to have further meetings with him to discuss these issues.

The Office for Budget Responsibility states that real wages in Scotland will be lower in 2015 than they were when Labour left office. Why is the Secretary of State not standing up for hard-working Scots and protecting tax credits, and is instead giving a tax break to millionaires?

There we go again. The hon. Lady, once again, chooses to ignore the absolute crisis that the Labour party left for the incoming Government three years ago. She forgets the measures we have taken to take low-paid Scots—224,000 of them—out of tax altogether. She forgets all those things. Without the firm measures we have taken in the past three years we would not be moving from rescue to recovery, as we are.