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Economic Growth

Volume 616: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2016

Creating an economy that works for all is a key priority of this Government. All regions are benefiting from the £12 billion local growth fund, and our industrial strategy will boost sustainable economic growth across the UK. Devolution deals are giving areas the tools they need to make the right economic decisions. We are supporting the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine, and we are investing more than £100 billion in infrastructure across the UK over the course of this Parliament.

I thank the Chancellor for his reply and am encouraged by it, but there has always been a feeling in northern Lincolnshire that we are somewhat peripheral from the northern powerhouse and that the focus has been too much on Leeds and Manchester. Could he reassure us that that is not the case? North East Lincolnshire Council has a number of innovative regeneration projects in process. Will he or one of his team agree to meet a delegation from north-east Lincolnshire in order to pursue them?

I reassure my hon. Friend that that is not the case. North-east Lincolnshire is very much a focus of the Government’s attention. We have agreed growth deals with the Humber local enterprise partnership worth more than £110 million, including support for a regeneration programme for the centre of Cleethorpes. I am sure that one of my ministerial team will be very happy to meet him and his council colleagues.

The floods in Yorkshire, including in Leeds, last Boxing day caused devastation, and many businesses have still not reopened. What conversations is the Chancellor having with insurance companies, which have restricted cover, increased premiums and put up excesses, thereby not only risking creating ghost towns in many of our communities, but risking jobs, too?

That is a matter on which my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office leads, but I have a considerable understanding of the problem, as my own constituency was subject to serious flooding in 2013-14. I will talk to my right hon. Friend and make him aware of the hon. Lady’s concerns.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing Nottingham to begin to take over Parliament today? My right hon. Friend the Chancellor knows of the great benefits of the queen of the east midlands, because he used to work in Nottingham, and he believes in the huge value of infrastructure projects. Is he minded, as he prepares his autumn statement, to bring forward HS2, making sure that the east midlands hub is in Toton in my constituency, and the electrification of the midlands main line, all of which will help the great city and county of Nottinghamshire?

Nottinghamshire is, indeed, a part of the country that I know well and have a great deal of affection for. The Government are completely seized of the need for infrastructure investment to support the productivity performance of our economy. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will look at the priority to be afforded to different specific projects and will make statements in due course.

Given that the east and west midlands together could generate significant growth for our economy if they got the right road, rail and skills infrastructure, and given that today is Nottingham in Parliament day, will the Chancellor acknowledge that the autumn statement should bring forward those ambitions for the midlands engine?

The Government are committed to the midlands engine. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the midlands conurbation overall has a weight of population and economic activity that allows it to be a rival to the hub of London and the south-east. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), announcements about specific projects will be made in due course by the relevant Minister.

One of the most important ways in which the Chancellor could boost economic growth outside—and, indeed, in—London and the south-east is by energising small business. Will he consider reviewing the small enterprise investment scheme, in the hope of simplifying it and of thereby seeing a wall of private cash invested in starting and maintaining small businesses?

My hon. Friend is right. Ensuring the supply of funding to start-ups and smaller enterprises as they grow is a key to the future of our economy. I assure him that all schemes, taxes and other such structures will be reviewed in the run-up to the autumn statement, and I will let him know my conclusions on 23 November.

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer aware that his predecessor introduced a scheme that was based on robbing Derbyshire County Council of £155 million in cuts and promising to give it less than 20% of that money back? No wonder the people in Bolsover marketplace do not call it the northern powerhouse; it is the northern poorhouse.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will want to look at the allocation of funding to local authorities, including Derbyshire County Council. As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) will know, there are many powerful advocates for Derbyshire on both sides of the House.

I wish the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) a speedy recovery. He may ask his question from his seat.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Chancellor will be well aware that the west midlands has a trade surplus with China, thanks to Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull and wider manufacturing. On their visits to BRIC nations, previous Chancellors have been keen to trumpet business in the northern powerhouse. Will this Chancellor help the cogs of the midlands engine to turn by taking west midlands businesses with him on future visits?

Indeed I will. It is an important part of the role of a Chancellor to act as a champion for businesses in the north and the midlands, and to draw the attention of inward investors such as the Chinese and the Indians, who are already heavily invested in the west midlands, to the opportunities that exist in the UK beyond London and the south-east. Such opportunities are not always as obvious to foreign investors as those that exist in London.

In order to boost growth outside London and the south-east, there should be a laser-like focus on manufacturing and its associated innovation research and development, but the UK’s record on R and D spending is lamentable compared with that of our international competitors. May I ask the Chancellor how he intends to remedy that? Will he take the opportunity of the autumn statement to reverse the decision to convert innovation funding from grants to loans?

We have supported £22 billion of R and D spending across the UK through the tax credit system. The hon. Gentleman is right; the UK’s productivity performance is weak compared with that of its principal competitors, and our investment in R and D is significantly less than that of many of our principal competitors. I promise him that we are acutely aware of that challenge, and I will address that challenge in the autumn statement on 23 November.

I will take that as a veiled good news story at some point to come. In order to boost growth we need to take exports more seriously, including to the EU, given that our trade balance has gone into reverse over the past two years. To effect that, what efforts is the Chancellor making to rule out a hard Brexit, with visas, tariff barriers and an end to the customs union, all of which the Treasury says could lead to the loss of £66 billion of revenue, a reduction in GDP of around 7.5% and a threat, estimated conservatively, to half a million jobs?

I know that the SNP does not like a good news story, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have been able, by 23 November, to think up a suitable response just in case there is such a story on that day.

On the wider issue of managing Britain’s exit from the European Union, the Prime Minister has been very clear. We understand the instructions that we have received from the British people, and within our obligation to deliver those we will seek to get the very best deal we can with the European Union that maximises the amount of trade in goods and services between our companies and the markets of the European Union, and between European companies and the UK market.

Financial services are one of the sectors most exposed to Brexit, but it is not just jobs in Canary Wharf and the square mile that are at risk; it is jobs throughout the UK, in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Edinburgh and beyond. The messages that the Government have sent so far have been incoherent and counterproductive. Firms need assurance that they will get comparable access to the single market and the ability to retain EU nationals who work for them. Will the Chancellor help finally to put an end to his Government’s chaos today and make a promise to deliver both?

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify financial services as one of the areas that is particularly concerned about the way in which the exit from the European Union is managed, because the industry is particularly dependent on the passporting regime that is in place. He is also right to draw attention to the often overlooked fact that 75% of financial services jobs are outside London. This is an important UK-wide industry.

On the specific points that the hon. Gentleman makes, I have certainly sought to reassure financial services businesses that we will put their needs at the heart of our negotiation with the European Union. We understand their need for market access. We also understand their need to be able to engage the right skilled people. I have said on the record—I am happy to say this again today—that I do not believe that the concerns the British people have expressed about migration from the European Union relate to those with high skills and high pay. The problem that people are concerned about relates to those taking entry level jobs. I see no likelihood of our using powers to control migration into the UK to prevent companies from bringing highly skilled, highly paid workers here.