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Business Growth Strategy

Volume 616: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2016

10. What steps his Department has taken to develop a long-term strategy for business growth since the UK’s decision to leave the EU. (907124)

11. What steps his Department has taken to develop a long-term strategy for business growth since the UK’s decision to leave the EU. (907125)

We are creating a business environment that supports growth and investment by cutting corporation tax, by investing in infrastructure, by expanding our world-beating science, research and innovation activities, by increasing the number of apprenticeships, and by devolving power all across Britain. Our industrial strategy will build on these strengths, and we will work with industry, local leaders, investors, workers and consumers to build the conditions for future success.

In Scotland, skills shortages in key areas have proved challenging when businesses are seeking to grow. The post-study work visa remains an important lever for promoting innovation and growth. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time to extend the post-study work visa pilot to include Scottish higher education institutes?

It is important that we attract the world’s brightest and best students to our fantastic universities, and all of us in the Government have a commitment to that. We have visa arrangements in place so that people can work in graduate jobs after that, and it is important that they should be able to do so.

Up to 100,000 jobs across the UK will be at risk if Brexit causes London to lose euro-denominated clearing business. The loss of that clearing business will also mean the loss of much of the financial markets’ infrastructure. What urgent action are the Government taking to stave off these dangers?

I am glad to hear that question from the hon. Gentleman, because it is true that the success of the financial services is not just about the City of London, but extends across the whole United Kingdom and, of course, Scotland. That is why it is important, in our negotiations, that we achieve the best possible deal to allow financial institutions, wherever they are in this country, to continue to trade freely across the EU.

My right hon. Friend does not need to make a plug for that. It is free markets and the knowledge that this is a competitive place to do business that accounts for our world-beating status in the G7 at the moment.

The Government regularly, and in my view rightly, promote the aviation and automotive sectors as future areas of growth in the UK economy. The world-class oil and gas industry, and particularly the exceptional supply chain, which, while centred in Aberdeen, stretches the length and breadth of the UK, is another area ripe for international development and diversification. When developing his industrial strategy, will the Secretary of State make sure that oil and gas is right at the heart of it?

I will indeed. I have visited Aberdeen already, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and I had a very fruitful conversation with not only the oil and gas industry there, but the Aberdeen chamber of commerce. It is important that this area of great strength for the UK is built on and that we extend those strengths, so that the industry can be competitive in the future.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I look forward to progress on that issue. However, whether it is oil and gas, food and drink, or the financial services sector, the attraction and retention of talent, much of which comes from elsewhere in the European Union, is absolutely central to that future. Businesses, I am sure, are saying the same things to me as they are to him. Will he ensure that we protect the status of EU nationals in discussions about leaving the EU?

Yes. The Prime Minister and my colleagues have been very clear about that. Of course we want people from the European Union who are here to continue to stay, but it is important that this is part of the discussions that we have to make sure that the rights of UK residents overseas are also recognised.

My right hon. Friend is quite right to address the importance of the oil and gas industry to Scotland, and it is also important to East Anglia. In the North sea, there are significant tax issues, which are making it harder to transfer some assets to new investors due to their near-term exposure to decommissioning. Will he liaise with his colleagues in the Treasury to come forward with proposals in the autumn statement to remove this constraint to much- needed investment?

My hon. Friend will recognise that, over recent years, there has been considerable progress and agreement between the sector and the Treasury to ensure that we have the best possible tax regime for the UK continental shelf. That will continue, and we will make sure that the regime remains competitive.

Our economy is desperately in need of more long-term strategic thinking, decision making and far less reliance on free markets and the laissez-faire approach that was mentioned earlier; I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s response to his colleague’s comments. Yet for many businesses the long term is currently a “maybe” rather than a certainty, as the uncertainty arising from Brexit places investment and survival in grave doubt. Will the Secretary of State give all companies the Nissan treatment and say how he will support all our businesses and industries through Brexit?

I am disappointed with that question. Perhaps it was rewritten by Seumas Milne when the hon. Gentleman was not looking—that might account for it. He knows very well that I will be vigorous and active right across the economy in promoting Britain as a good and competitive place to do business. That is our responsibility in government, and no one will discharge it with more vigour than me.