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Business Investment: UK and East Anglia

Volume 617: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2016

The Government are taking significant steps to encourage business investment in East Anglia and in all regions of the UK by cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the G20, delivering a £6.7 billion business rates package and allocating the £23 billion of public investment through the national productivity investment fund to ensure increasing and improved productivity. The autumn statement also announced £27 million for the Oxford to Cambridge expressway road link, as well as funding for the east-west rail link, and local enterprise partnerships in the east of England will also receive up to £151 million of local growth funding.

I welcome the Chancellor’s reply and the announcement of investment in the Oxford to Cambridge corridor and the transformational effect that that could have. Will he also ensure that other schemes to the east of Cambridge, such as the vital Ely North rail junction and improvements to the A47, also go ahead on time? He will be aware that they are crucial to the future economy of west Norfolk and other parts of Norfolk.

I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend’s comments about that particular rail scheme to my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. My hon. Friend will know that we have a large programme of rail infrastructure in place and that the additional funding for the east-west rail link that was announced last week was outside that core rail programme. I hope that he will agree that the Oxford to Cambridge corridor represents a real growth opportunity for the south and the east of England to exploit Britain’s two best known universities and their world-class research reputations to enhance the productive capacity of our economy.

Since 23 June, there has been a significant depreciation of sterling and two announcements of major investments in UK motor manufacturing. The prospects for investment in UK manufacturing more widely are now much improved. Will the Chancellor be seeking to ensure that the more sensible exchange rate welcomed by Lord Mervyn King, among others, is sustained?

No. It is not the Government’s business to sustain or manage the exchange rate in any way, as the hon. Gentleman very well knows. We have an inflation target, but exchange rates are set by markets and reflect market views about the economy and expectations of the trajectory of the economy in the future. He is absolutely right to observe that, over the past six months, we have seen some remarkable endorsements of the British economy through large inward investment decisions made by foreign inward investors.

May I congratulate the Chancellor on the £23 billion of extra money for this national productivity investment fund, which will confer huge benefits on the whole of the United Kingdom? Although I do not expect him to comment on the considerable merits of the A610 growth corridor and the improvements to the road at Giltbrook, I am very happy to meet him to persuade him of them. On a serious note, will he do everything he can to ensure that excellent schemes such as those are expedited and not caught up in what can sometimes be bureaucratic tangles?

It is an excellent scheme indeed. My right hon. Friend will know that it is not only the £23 billion of additional funding for economically productive infrastructure that was announced on Wednesday last week, but a core £150 billion of funding for the same defined purposes over the remainder of this Parliament and the Government’s commitment, repeated last Wednesday, to move to a roads fund from 2020, funded by the revenues from vehicle excise duty, all of which adds up to a sustained commitment to investment in our roads.

Brexit is putting business investment on hold at the expense of job losses. This comes after a long period of escalating debt and slumping growth. Furthermore, quantitative easing has failed to raise confidence and stimulate business investment in the real economy. The autumn statement measures announced are simply insufficient. What else will the Chancellor do?

I simply do not recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints. The Bank of England’s monetary actions have undoubtedly had a positive effect in stimulating the economy. The performance of consumer demand over the past few weeks has demonstrated that very clearly. We have the key elements in place, both monetary and fiscal, for our current circumstance, which is the potential for a more difficult period ahead. We need to muster our resources, make sure that we are able to support the economy through this period, and, at the same time, address the fundamental challenges, such as the productivity problem, to ensure that Britain is match fit to meet the challenges that it will face as it leaves the European Union.

In that regard, I am sure that the Chancellor would agree that research and development investment is critical to obtaining a high skill, high wage economy and one that increases productivity, as he has recognised. It is therefore disappointing that the autumn statement has failed to match R and D investment as a percentage of GDP in line with other major economies. What will the Chancellor do to fill that gap?

What I will do over the medium to long term is get the British economy back on to a firm footing, so that we can fund all those investment needs—which we do have, as the hon. Gentleman points out. Let me turn the question around. Scotland will receive £800 million of additional capital funding through Barnett consequentials as a result of the announcement made last week. From the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I feel sure that the Scottish National party will want to confirm that that money will be used in Scotland, as it will in England, to target productivity-raising capital investment, so that the Scottish economy can perform more strongly in the future.