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Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 19 April 2016

3. What assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of productivity; and what steps he is taking to increase productivity. (904539)

Productivity performance in the UK has been weak since the financial crisis, as it has been in all developed countries. The Government published their productivity plan “Fixing the foundations” last year. At the Budget, we announced additional reductions in corporation tax and business rates to incentivise investment, and gave the green light to infrastructure projects such as Crossrail 2 and High Speed 3.

The Scottish National party has continually argued that the UK economy is in dire need of investment to stimulate productivity. Despite the productivity plan, the Chancellor seems determined to persevere with policies that stifle productivity. What policies have the UK Government enacted that will encourage an increase in productivity?

The hon. Lady is right in saying that there is an issue in relation to productivity in this country, but there is an issue across all major developed economies. Over the past year, productivity growth in this country was about 1%, which compares with 0.9% across the G7. On specific measures, we have established the National Infrastructure Commission, protected science funding at the Budget and spending review, introduced the Housing and Planning Bill, announced the apprenticeship levy, which is coming in, and announced a £100 billion infrastructure programme over the course of this Parliament.

Does the Chief Secretary to the Treasury agree that, by being a member of the European Union, this country benefits hugely from a cross-fertilisation of good ideas across the European Union, the supply chain, and foreign direct investment at 50%? Our trade, too, also benefits from our being in the single market—[Interruption.]

Order. No! The hon. Gentleman is very, very wide of the question. I have great respect for him. He has put his thoughts on the record, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the question on the Order Paper, to which the Chief Secretary will not therefore reply.

May I press the Minister? He cannot just hide behind what he claims to be happening in all advanced economies. We are performing worse than most, particularly France. Is the reason for that not to do with the lack of skills of our workers and the lack of good education in our country? Will the Chancellor’s silly policy on forced academisation help or hinder?

We recognise that there is an issue with productivity, which is why we published the productivity plan, but in terms of growth, the UK was the fastest-growing major economy in 2014. Last year, we were in second place; this year we are also projected to be in second place, growing at a healthy rate. Therefore, with regard to growth, this country is doing very well indeed.

Does the Chief Secretary to the Treasury agree that £540 billion invested by foreign businesses in the UK over the past decade is vital to our future productivity, and that, if we left the EU, the uncertainty of our trading relationship with Europe and the world would put that investment in jeopardy?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Leaving the EU would damage UK productivity. It has the potential to deny access, or to make access more difficult, to markets and investment. It is worth noting that the UK, with 28%, is the No.1 EU destination for foreign direct investment, and a large part of that is to do with our status as an EU member.

It was five years in office before we saw a productivity plan, and what happened last year? Productivity in the UK was 18 percentage points below the average for the rest of the G7. One sector that needs help is the UK steel industry. It needs more capital investment to be more competitive. How much money will the Government invest in steel in the next 12 months to improve productivity and save British jobs?

The hon. Gentleman mentions the figure of 18 percentage points, and I refer him to an earlier answer in which I said productivity has been a long-standing issue in the UK. In fact, the figure was 17 percentage points back in the 1990s. As he well knows, the action we have taken on steel includes securing state aid to compensate for energy costs, securing flexibility over EU emissions regulations, ensuring that the procurement rules can also allow social and economic factors to be taken into account, and continuing to tackle unfair trading practices. The Government have been very active on steel, and that has not ended today.